After Easter: “Do You Love Me?”

 

After Easter: “Do You Love Me?”
A Message on John 21:1-19

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 22, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 21:1-19 (NRSV)

 

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

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

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

Jesus and Peter
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

 

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

 

I find this scripture in the Gospel of John to be beautiful in so many ways.

 

Here’s the situation: It’s after Easter. Jesus has been crucified, died, and was buried. He rose from the dead, surprising everyone, and then started appearing to his followers in different locations and at different times.

 

So the disciples don’t really know what to do about all of this, so several of them go back to their occupations they had before they became disciples of Jesus Christ. They go back to fishing.

 

Fishing was an important economic resource at the time. The fish were salted and dried, which preserved them, and could then be transported and eaten later. Some were eaten fresh, of course, but as you can imagine fresh fish with no refrigeration available doesn’t travel very well.

 

Now how many disciples does it describe in the scripture we read today? Any guesses? There were seven. (Seven is an important number in the Bible.) The scripture says, “Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin (of “Doubting Thomas” fame), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee (which would be James and John), and two others of his disciples (who are not named).”

 

So seven men are in one boat fishing. They are fishing at night, by the way.

 

How many of you have ever been night fishing? Raise your hands. I have, and I have to tell you I don’t like it. The main reason is that you can’t see. And I like to see.

 

Years ago Pam’s dad, James, had a boat and we were camping with them and fishing on Lake Leon out in Eastland County, west of Fort Worth. We went out one night crappie fishing and caught some nice fish. On our way back to the camp, though, we had to go through an area of submerged trees. James was driving the boat and going slow, but all of a sudden we felt the boat lifted up out of the water several inches and then it stopped.

 

We had wedged the boat up in three branches of a submerged tree and it was holding us fast. We were stuck.

 

We tried different things to get it unstuck but it didn’t work. Finally we put the trolling motor on high and we would start at the back of the boat, run quickly to the front, and then stop. Millimeter by millimeter, and after about an hour of doing this, we finally got it unstuck and were able to make it back to camp.

 

We had a spotlight and some flashlights with us but with them we still got into trouble in the dark.

 

I can’t imagine the disciples out at night, fishing in a leaky wooden boat, in a sea known for its sudden, unpredictable storms.

 

The scripture we read today calls it the Sea of Tiberias, but in the Bible it goes by several names: Sea of Galilee,  Sea of Kinneret, lake of Gennesaret, and sometimes just “the sea” or “the lake.” It’s not actually a sea as it has fresh water, not salt water, and it isn’t real huge, either, measuring about 13 miles long and 8.1 miles wide. By comparison, Lake Palestine is 18 miles long and 4 miles wide at its widest. So basically and shorter and wider Lake Palestine.

 

The lake is fed by the upper Jordan river, and the Jordan river also flows out of it as it makes its way south to the Dead Sea.

 

There are a lot of fish in the sea/lake. There are several different species but one is probably familiar to you today: tilapia. This fish is even called “Peter’s fish” in the area because of the scripture from the 17th chapter of Matthew where Jesus tells Peter to go and catch a fish and that he will find a coin in the fish’s mouth to be used to pay the temple tax.

 

Besides the tilapia, the lake contains “biny” fish, a predatory species which feeds on yet another species, sardines. Yes, like the sardines you get in a can at the grocery store. There are also catfish in the lake, but the clean/unclean laws in Leviticus classifies catfish as “unclean” (they don’t have both fins and scales) so they didn’t eat them.

 

More than likely the fish that filled the nets of the disciples was tilapia. It is the only fish in the lake that schools and moves to the shallows when the weather cools.

 

So the disciples have been out fishing for these tilapia all night long and haven’t caught a thing. Now we have to remember, these are professional fishermen, not amateurs. Before following Christ three of them in this group (and maybe four if Andrew is one of the unnamed disciples) made a living by fishing. And if you didn’t catch any fish, not only did you not get paid, you also might not eat.

 

They fish all night, and nothing. Nada. They got skunked.

 

So they are tired, frustrated, and maybe a little irritable as well.

 

Then someone on the shore points out the fact that they haven’t caught anything. Great. Pour salt in the wound, will ya. He then tells them to put out their nets on the right side of their boat.

 

Yeah, like that’s going to work. They had been fishing all night. All the long, dark, night. They fished and fished and fished and tried everything they knew to catch fish and had come up with nothing. What are the odds that putting out the nets one more time, on a specific side of the boat, would be any different.

 

But what did they have to lose? Maybe the stranger knew something they didn’t. So they tried it. And indeed there were fish here. Lots of fish. Big fish, completely filling up the net. There were so many fish, they couldn’t bring the net on board.

 

It’s at this point that “the disciple that Jesus loved,” who most people believe to be John, figures out that the person standing on the shore and giving fishing instructions is Jesus. Peter, every the impetuous one, puts on some clothes, jumps out of the boat, and swims to shore toward Jesus.

 

Now the question could be raised why Peter was fishing naked. Here’s my theory: if you don’t have many clothes, and you want the clothes you do have not to smell like fish, then it makes sense not to wear them while you are fishing. Also, it could have been a very warm time of year, so temperature could have come into play.

 

(Now y’all know that I love to fish. But I promise that no matter how stinky or hot it gets, I will not fish naked. I know that will give you great comfort and peace.)

 

It doesn’t say whether the other six disciples get mad at Peter for abandoning them at a critical moment when they are trying to get their catch to shore, but I wonder that. And I get to thinking that maybe it’s a Mary/Martha kind of moment, that while yes, the large number of fish was important, seeing Jesus was perhaps the greater of the two things.

 

There is so much symbolism in this passage of scripture. The fishermen who became disciples, whom Jesus called away from their nets and who he taught to fish for people, go back to fishing. It is while they are doing this that the resurrected Jesus appears.

 

The fish becomes a symbol of the early Christian church. It still is today. Jesus fed the thousands with a few fish and loaves of bread.

 

So back to the scripture. Jesus is cooking fish over a charcoal fire. Now this is easy to skip over, but I find it fascinating. What is charcoal? How is it made? It’s wood that is set on fire and then extinguished before the fire burns up all the wood. In a way that’s what happened to the disciples, right? They were set on fire when Jesus called them and they followed him, then his death on the cross seemingly extinguished their fire. They didn’t know what to do. And then the resurrected Jesus shows up and rekindles the fire in them and gives them their mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. In other words, to fish for people. And what does Jesus have cooking over the charcoal fire? Fish, of course.

 

But perhaps the most beautiful example of symbolism in the passage comes with the interaction between Jesus and Peter. Jesus asks Peter what seems to be a repetitive question: “Do you love me?”

 

He does this three times. Why the repetition? It doesn’t seem to make sense?

 

But then we remember what Peter did after Jesus was arrested. Peter fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy that Peter would deny him (Jesus) three times before the rooster crowed. And while at the time Peter vehemently argued that he would never deny Jesus, the fact is that he did. And how many times did he deny knowing him?

 

Three. Three times.

 

I am convinced that Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me?” three times as a way of offering forgiveness to Peter, once for each time he denied him. I think that’s why Peter’s response to being asked this a third time is different than the first two: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

 

I think this third time it suddenly hits Peter what is going on. And it probably knocks the spiritual wind out of him. And it probably was painful to realize that Jesus repeating the question three times was in response to Peter’s denying him three times.

 

But it doesn’t end there. It’s also interesting to note the responses Jesus gives to Peter each time Peter replies.

 

“Feed my lambs.”

“Tend my sheep.”

“Feed my sheep.”

 

“Feed my lambs.”

 

I find it to be descriptive of spiritual growth. Lambs are baby sheep. Their nourishment comes from milk. This reminds me of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, “And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food.”

 

This describes those new to the faith. They are not yet spiritually mature but will grow over time, becoming spiritually mature. Those who are spiritually mature are to help brothers and sisters in the faith to become spiritually mature.

 

“Tend my sheep.”

 

To me this describes someone who is past the infant stage. Adult sheep can tend for themselves in many ways, no longer needing to be fed milk. They feed by grazing and can do it by themselves, but they still need a shepherd to “tend” them, to watch out for them, and to lead them to green pastures and “beside the still waters.”

 

In the same way I think that Christians in this stage of spiritual growth are able to practice many of the spiritual disciplines by themselves (daily Bible reading, prayer, tithing, etc.) but still need someone more spiritually mature to “tend” them and encourage them.

 

“Feed my sheep.”

 

Here I think Jesus is referring to the spiritually mature followers, i.e. sheep. He is asking Peter to feed them, signifying the leadership role that Peter is to play in the early church. Also, we must remember one of the major purposes of adult sheep: to make more sheep! Peter, and we, are to feed spiritually mature believers with spiritual food (primarily the Word of God) so that they will then “produce fruit” and make lambs, other disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

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

 

I think one is that for every time we mess up, God offers us forgiveness. Peter denied Jesus three times during a very critical time, and Jesus offers Peter forgiveness three times.

 

In conversations I have with unchurched people I often hear things like, “You don’t want me in church. I’ve done some really bad things in my past life that I’m not proud of.”

 

My response is that God’s church is the very place they need to be. They need to feel the Holy Spirit move in their lives to let them know that when we ask for forgiveness, God gives us that forgiveness. And if God can forgive us, then we can begin the process of forgiving ourselves.

 

As church members we need to make sure we are always welcoming to those carrying heavy burdens. We need to remember that the church is not a shrine for saints, but a hospital for sinners.

 

Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” His response was, “Yes.”

 

But we can also ask God, “Do you love me?” And God’s response is always, “Yes.”

 

“How much,” we often think.

 

“This much,” God replies. (Hold arms out wide.)

 

So my challenge to you this week is to remember just how much God loves us and how willing God is to forgive us–and all his children–of the times we deny him. Peter went on to do great things and to establish what we know as the church.

 

And we can, and should do the same. Let us as disciples of Jesus Christ fish for people.

 

But if you want me to go fish fishing at night, I’m probably gonna pass.

 

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

 

Mary Magdalene with the Resurrected Jesus by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov

 

“He Is Risen!”

A Message on John 20:1-18
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 1, 2018, Easter Sunday
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 20:1-18(NRSV)

 

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

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

 

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

 

One day a Sunday School teacher was talking to her elementary-age students about Easter. “Can anyone tell me what Easter is?” she asked the class.

 

“It’s when you get new dresses and shoes and hats,” said one little girl.

 

“It’s when the Easter bunny comes and you hunt Easter eggs!” said another student.

 

“Yes, but what is the REAL meaning of Easter?” she asked.

 

It got real quiet in the room. Then, very slowly, a little boy raised his hand. “Yes, Johnny,” the teacher said.

 

“Easter is when we celebrate Jesus,” he said.

 

“That’s right,” said the teacher. “What do we celebrate about Jesus?”

 

“Well,” said Johnny, “There were some people who didn’t like Jesus, so they killed him. And after they killed him on the cross, they put him in a hole in the ground.”

 

“A tomb,” said the teacher, feeling proud that at least one of the children knew the meaning of Easter. “Go on.”

 

“Well, then, after he’s been in the hole in the ground three days, he comes out at Easter.”

 

The teacher was proud. “That’s right, Johnny, very good.”

 

“Then,” said Johnny, “if he sees his shadow it means that there will be six more weeks of winter.”

 

While this story is humorous, it points out what I think is a very real truth: for many people Jesus rising from the dead is treated as just another fictional legend. It’s just something that isn’t real but that does have entertainment value.

 

The scripture we read today from the Gospel of John tells us about the first Easter morning. Mary Magdelene goes to the tomb early in the morning. Mary was a follower of Jesus who has been the subject of urban myths herself. There are theories that she was a prostitute, that she and Jesus had a baby, and other things that are based more on speculation than on fact or the scriptures.

 

Two of the gospels, Luke and the longer ending of Mark, say that Jesus cast seven demons out of her. All four of the gospels mention her, and she is mentioned 12 times between the gospels. That’s more than most of the disciples get mentioned.

 

It is fact and not fiction that she is an important follower of Jesus Christ. It’s also a fact that early in the morning she goes to Jesus tomb. In John’s gospel she goes alone, while in Mark’s gospel she is one of the “Three Marys” that visit the tomb. (Mary Magdalene, Mary Mother of James, and Mary “Salome”) Matthew mentions Mary Magdalene going to tomb with “the other Mary,” and Luke just mentions “the women.”

 

Mary gets the name “Magdalene” from the town she was from, Magdala. This was a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Mary, or more technically “Mariam,” was a popular name at the time and so often they were referred to also the town they were from in order to differentiate between different Marys.

 

Mary is the one in John’s gospels who is the first to see the risen Jesus. She recognizes him when he calls her by name. Jesus gives her a task, to go and tell the disciples, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” And she does. Her first words to them are, “I have seen the Lord!”

 

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the very tenet of the Christian faith. I don’t think you can be a Christian if you don’t believe this.

 

Over the years there have been many attempts to discredit the resurrection. Jesus wasn’t really dead, only unconscious. Right before he was crucified Jesus switched bodies with someone else. The Roman guards were bribed by Jesus disciples who came in the night and took his body away.

 

To me these theories are no more valid than the groundhog seeing his shadow on Groundhog Day.

 

Jesus was really dead. The Roman guards saw to that. They well well versed in crucifying people, and they knew when they were dead and when they were not. The spear in Jesus side confirmed it. Jesus was dead.

 

But he didn’t stay dead. The huge stone was rolled away from the tomb and Jesus walked out alive. He even tidied up the place a bit before he left, rolling up the cloth that had been around his head.

 

We read these words in scripture, and we believe.

 

The resurrection of Jesus is proof that he is the messiah, the Son of God. And it gives us joy and it gives us hope.

 

Hope because we know because of our faith death does not have the last word for those who believe. No matter what happens to us in this world, we have hope because we are promised that something better is coming.

 

When a loved one dies, we have hope because something better is coming.

 

When the doctor gives us a diagnosis of cancer, we have hope because something better is coming.

 

When relationships disintegrate and our hearts are broken, we have hope because something better is coming.

 

When addictions destroy lives and bodies, we have hope because something better is coming.

 

When our bodies begin to fail as we grow older and pain becomes a daily reminder of our mortality, we have hope because something better is coming.

 

Something better is coming, and we can claim and hold on to that because Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

 

Jesus isn’t dead. He is no longer in the grave. He is risen!

 

So my challenge to you this Easter Sunday is to live boldly, knowing that something better is coming. It’s not a fictional story. It’s not an urban legend. It is fact: Jesus is alive. He is risen.

 

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

Upside Down: “Kings”

 

Upside Down: “Kings”
A Message on John 12:12-16
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 25, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 12:12-16 (NRSV)

 

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
   the King of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
   sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

 

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

 

Today we are concluding our sermon series “Upside Down,” which looks at the things of earth that seem upside down from the things of heaven, by looking at the topic of kings.

 

This is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, where Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem riding on of all things a young donkey.  It’s called Palm Sunday because when people heard that Jesus was coming then stripped branches off of palm trees and waved then and put then on the road for his donkey to walk on, and they did this because that’s how they celebrated royalty.

 

The scripture we read today has the crowd shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord–the King of Israel!”

 

Now the history of the people of Israel had with kings was somewhat sketchy. There were only three kings over the united kingdom of Israel: Saul, David, and Solomon.

 

The first, Saul, came about when the people demanded a king. The name Saul, as a matter of fact, means “asked for, prayed for.”

 

Here’s the situation. Somewhere around 1500 BC the tribes of Israel occupy the promised land and yet they don’t really have a centralized form of government. They have the laws that Moses gave them but really no one person in charge like they did when Moses was around.

 

So they have judges. Now when we think of judges we think of legal matters regarding the law, and these people did indeed do that, but they also served as leaders of the people in terms of military and governmental functions as well.

 

But the people didn’t like that. When Samuel the prophet came around they started whining and complaining that they didn’t have a king. Samuel had appointed his sons as judges, but they were evil and didn’t follow God’s ways.

 

So the people of Israel came to Samuel and demanded a king. They wanted a king because all the other countries had kings and they didn’t. I can just hear them whining like a little kid, “We want a king. Everybody else has a king. We want a king.” (I’ve always wanted Samuel to answer them, “Well if the people in every country went and jumped off a cliff would you go and jump off it, too?”)

 

So Samuel prays to God and God tells him to go ahead and give them a king, but to warn them of just how mean and tough the king was going to be on them. So Samuel tells them that this king won’t be nice to them, that he will take away the things they have and make them slaves, but the people don’t listen. They want a king.

 

So Saul is chosen as the first king. And things go pretty good at first, then Saul starts doing mean and evil things just like ol’ Samuel prophesied.

 

David comes on the scene, and Saul tries to kill him multiple times, things like trying to impale him on a spear, stuff like that.

 

Then Saul dies in battle and David becomes king. David does good in the eyes of God until we get to the whole Bathsheba thing and having her husband killed. David repents, but the damage has already been done.

 

Wise Solomon succeeds his father David as king of Israel. He starts off pretty good but then, wise as he is, starts falling away from God.

 

After Solomon the kingdom divides into two separate countries, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Each of them have a succesion of kings. Most of the kings are not good, especially in Israel. Judah has some pretty good kings, like Hezekiah, but then bad kings came along and destroyed all the good the good ones did.

 

So the Jewish people don’t have a very good track record with kings.

 

At the time Jesus walks on the earth the kingdom doesn’t have a king. The land is under the military and governmental control of the Romans, and they appoint governors over the Jewish people but pretty much leave them to themselves as long as they don’t cause trouble. The Pharisees and Sadducees oversee the Jewish people, but do so under the oppressive thumb of the Romans.

 

Throughout the history of the Jewish people, though, they have been waiting on the messiah. The prophets spoke of one who would come and deliver them from being oppressed and who would be their leader. This messiah would change everything.

 

When Jesus enters Jerusalem many of the Jewish people think he is the messiah, he is the one. There is great joy and anticipation on what the messiah is going to do.

 

Most of them probably thought about the messiah more in military terms. He would come in with a great and powerful sword and overthrow the Roman controlwith massive bloodshed and great military victories.

 

But Jesus doesn’t ride into town on a stallion of war, but on a beast of burden. A donkey. A service animal, small but strong, the complete opposite of a war horse.

 

As a matter of fact there is still a breed of donkeys that are called Jerusalem donkeys. They are called that because the pattern of their coat makes a cross on their backs. Legend has it that the cross start appeared on the donkeys after Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem and was crucified. The shadow of the cross fell across the donkey’s back and made the pattern. That’s not true but it is a good reminder of the type of animal Jesus rode.

 

Even though Jesus was on a donkey the people still celebrated! Yes, it wasn’t the kind of entrance they expected, but hey, let’s see what happens! Yay for the King of Israel. Boo for the Romans.

 

But when Jesus doesn’t overthrow the Romans by military force, the shouts of Hosanna turn to shouts of “Crucify Him!,” all in just a few days time.

 

So how should we as followers of Jesus Christ in the 21st century view kings? How should our faith shape our view of “kings,” those who lead countries?

 

In the United States we don’t have a king, we have a president. Some people in this room like him, some people in this room hate him, and some really don’t care one way or the other. I’m not going to get into politics today other than what the Bible tells us about how we should treat our leaders.

 

The scriptures tell us that our top priority is to God, but that we are also to pray for and submit ourselves to those who have authority over us.

 

Romans 13:1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”

 

Now that doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with them or some of the things they do. But we are to be subject to them.

 

“For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.” (1 Peter 2:13-14)

 

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”  (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

 

The world will always have rulers. Some good, some not-so-good, and some just downright evil. That’s the way it has always been, and I’m pretty sure that’s the way it will be until the second coming of Christ.

 

Leaders come and leaders go, but God always remains as our ultimate authority figure. As our ultimate King.

 

Back in the Old Testament, the prophet Daniel wrote these words:

 

He changes times and seasons,
   deposes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
   and knowledge to those who have understanding. (Daniel 2:21)

 

Our world today is so full of shouting about kings. Screaming, actually. Each side tries to scream louder than the other, to be more radical than the other, and the media loves it and counts the money from the ratings. Depending on which side you believe, things are great because of our “king,” or they are horrible because of our “king.”

 

While we are to be subjects to human government “kings” we must remember that  our full loyalty is to the King of Heaven, not an earthly king.

 

We need be upside down from the worldly view.We need be faithful and loyal to King Jesus at all times and at all places and in all circumstances.

 

Let us not be like those in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago who cried out “Hosanna!” one day only to scream “Crucify him!” just a few days later.

 

Jesus, being God, knew that the same people praising him for being the messiah would be the same ones who would call for his death. I wonder how he felt as he rode into Jerusalem that day knowing that.

 

Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem on the way to the cross. Joy turned to pain and sorrow.

 

There is a song by a group called Downhere that has some poignant lyrics with regards to kings. Ironically it is a Christmas song, but I like to listen to it year round.

 

It was written by a member of the group named Marc Martel, and in an interview he gives some of the story behind the song.

 

“My favorite thing about Christmas is that as a believer, I am often challenged by the fact that God’s way of doing things often seems to be the opposite of what we would come up with. Instead of the world’s way of coming down to earth, which would involve celebrity, riches, arrogance, our God and Savior chose humility, poverty and the ultimate sacrifice of dying on a cross hanging between two thieves. This completely humbles me as a believer. I’m amazed at how God uses the mundane to save us from our sin and ourselves.”

 

Here are the words of the chorus:

 

How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that is torn all apart
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me

 

So my challenge to you on this Palm Sunday as we begin Holy Week is to remember who the ultimate king really is. Jesus didn’t ride into Jerusalem in a limousine or on a war horse, but on the humble, hard-working beast of burden, a donkey. He showed the ultimate power of love and humbled himself to die on a cross, although he had every earthly power of kings at his command.

 

How many kings step down from their thrones and give their lives for the salvation of the world?

 

Only one did that.

 

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

Upside Down: “Service”

Upside Down: “Service”
A Message on Matthew 20:20-28
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 18, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 20:20-28 (NRSV)

 

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

24 When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

 

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

 

There is a new television series that doesn’t air over the air or even on any of the cable or satellite channels. It’s called “Returning the Favor” and it is shown on, of all things, Facebook. It features Mike Rowe, former host of “Dirty Jobs” and the narrator of “Deadliest Catch,” who travels the country looking for “do-gooders” (their term, not mine). Mike and his film crew interview them, and then usually leaves them a big check to help with their costs of “doing good.”

 

The episode I watched Thursday had them in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania talking to Carol Stark, known locally as “The Crazy Lady.” She got that nickname because Carol spends her time, and her money, working with the street kids in that county. She works with homeless teenagers, teenagers who have gotten into trouble with the law, ones who have gotten kicked out of school.

 

And she doesn’t just work with them, she teaches them to work. One student talked about how he got in trouble with the law and owed a $5,000 fine. He was homeless at the time and there was no way he was going to be able to pay the fine. Then Carol went to the judge and talked the judge into having the young man work community service instead of paying a fine. (Mike asked the young man how much community service offset a $5,000 fine, and the young man replied, “A lot. A whole, whole lot.”)

 

Carol taught the young man how to work. He had never worked before in his life. She taught him the importance of work, the value of a job well done, and how work can develop self esteem and values.

 

And that was just one teenager. Carol had helped so many teens in that community. Hundreds. No one else in that community cared about these teenagers, but Carol did.

 

I bring up Carol as an example of service to others because we are continuing our sermon series “Upside Down” by looking at the topic of service today.

 

Today’s scripture from Matthew’s Gospel intrigues me in a couple of aspects. The first is that the disciples were being so competitive at… well… being disciples. There was one-upmanship going on among the twelve, pushing and jockeying for positioning about who was better than who.

 

It’s like elementary kids competing for who will be first in line. At Mini-Methodists on Wednesday the adult volunteers usually will alternate on who gets off of the bus or the people mover first. Last rows first, or first rows first. And the kids have figured this out, so when they get on the bus they choose their seats based on who they think will get off the bus first. (They hate it when I drive or ride because I will tell them “the middle” or the opposite of what they are expecting.)

 

Why is it in our human nature to be so competitive? And you would think of all people that the disciples wouldn’t have the problem, but they did.

 

Now here’s the thing I find humorous about today’s scripture. James and John are the sons of Zebedee who leave their father’s fishing boat to follow Jesus. Now it’s not the disciples themselves who approach Jesus asking that they be selected as better disciples than all the rest, but it’s their mother! It’s their mom!

 

These are grown men and yet here comes mom (I can just see her tugging on James’ earlobe to come on) asking Jesus to place her sons over the other disciples.

 

What I wonder is if it was James and John’s idea for mom to approach Jesus and ask him the question, or if it was mom’s idea? Was she wanting a bumper sticker to put on her donkey that said “My sons sit at the right and left hand of Jesus.” Was it her idea to do it so that she could have bragging rights about her kids?

 

Or was it the brothers’ idea to have mom approach Jesus and ask him because they were either two scared to do it themselves or thought that mom would increase their chances of being the “chosen ones.”

 

The great thing about the situation is Jesus’ response. Now I often wonder if he did this: (show photo of Jesus doing a facepalm). We don’t know if he rolled his eyes or did a facepalm or not, but we do know that his response was that the positions of prestige were not his to give, but his father’s.

 

Word gets back to the other 10 disciples about what ol’ James and John tried to do, and as expected they get pretty ticked about it. But then Jesus uses the moment to do a little teaching. “…whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

 

This had to be so upside down, so different from worldly thinking, the disciples had to go, “Say what?”

 

It’s track season now. Jesus is saying that instead of giving the trophies and honors to the athletes that finish first, give it to the person that crosses the line last. Can you hear the announcer over the PA system, “… And in last place in the 1500 meter dash, with a time of 2 hours, 13 minutes, and 43 seconds, John James from Zebedee High School.”?

 

It doesn’t make sense, does it? Not from our worldly thinking, no. But when it comes to serving others, it makes perfect sense in heavenly thinking.

 

The last shall be first. The meek will inherit the earth. The greatest will be a servant. The first will be a slave.

 

Jesus said he came “not to be served but to serve.” As Christians, as followers of Jesus, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to do the same. We shouldn’t seek to be served, but should seek to serve.

 

My late mom not only believed this but she also lived it. There were eight of us in the family (6 kids and 2 adults) so mom had to cook a lot of food. When we would have fried chicken she would cut up and fry three chickens. (For you young folks, chicken didn’t always come already cut up.) Mom always chose what she called the “boney” pieces, the back and ribs and necks. She said it was because that’s what she liked, but I’m pretty sure she chose those so that her family could enjoy the more premium pieces of chicken. She put our needs before her own.

 

As Christians today, how are we living out servant leadership? How are we walking in the Jesus Way of seeking not to be served, but to serve? How many of us are sitting at the table waiting to eat instead of getting up, giving others our seats, and being servants and serving the Bread of Lifo to them?

 

It’s hard to be a servant in today’s world. We have become such a consumeristic society that even subconsciously we view the world in terms of what can benefit us, not how we can benefit others.

 

It has even infiltrated religion. We come to church with an attitude to get, not to give. We come looking to be fed, to see what we can get out of it, what’s in it for “me.” When we do we miss that worship is giving to God and giving to others, and that it is through giving that we receive, that we are fed.

 

We look inward in the church, instead of looking outward toward those in our community who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

To me on of the most beautiful acts Jesus did with his disciples is when he washed their feet. Found in the 13th chapter of John’s gospel, this act of service is so humbling, so condescending and self-effacing, that it’s hard for us to really wrap our minds around it.

 

The job of foot washing at that time in history was given to whoever was lowest on the social pecking order. Usually a slave or a servant, there was no prestige in washing the feet of people who wore sandals and walked around on gravel and dirt all day.

 

And yet that’s what Jesus himself does at the Last Supper. He washes the feet of his disciples, even the feet of Judas, the one he knows will betray him.

 

And then he gives them this command: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

 

Servanthood. It’s an integral part of being a Christian. Jesus came to be a servant, and was a servant. In the same way we should be servants, too.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to be a servant. Have a servant’s heart like Jesus does. Have a servant heart like “The Crazy Lady” Carol Stark of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We are surrounded in our community by people who are hurting because they don’t know the love that God has for them. Instead of being competitive about how good a Christian we are, like James and John (and their mother) did, let us seek to wash the feet of those in our community who do not know Jesus Christ. (Maybe not literally, but you know what I mean.)

 

“…whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.”

 

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

 

Upside Down: “Change”

Upside Down: “Change”
A Message on 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 11, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (NRSV)

 

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

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

 

Let’s start out today by doing a little social experiment of sorts. How many of you are sitting in the same spot in the same pew that you always sit in? Raise your hand. (Now be sure to tell the truth and shame the devil.)

 

Raise your hand if you eat the same thing for breakfast every morning. Listen to the same radio station in your vehicle? Watch the same shows on TV? Put your socks and shows on in the same order and way?

 

We humans are creatures of habit, are we not? For some reason we like routines, doing the same thing in the same way at the same times day after day after day. We find comfort in our routines. We like routines. We don’t like change.

 

Here, let’s try something else. Cross your arms. Just cross your arms like this (show). Okay, now reverse which arm is on top. Just switch them out. How does it feel? Awkward? Uncomfortable?

 

We are also uncomfortable when it comes to changes in matters of faith as well, aren’t we?

 

I’ve talked before about in a previous church I served how upset some people got over which shade of white to paint the inside of the sanctuary. Not what color. Everyone agreed to paint it white, which was the color of the old paint. No, the issue of conflict was which shade of white to paint it. (And ironically there was very, very little difference between the shades.)

 

We even want our worship to stay the same and never change. We want to sing only the hymns we know, with the same instrumentation we are familiar with.

 

Let me read you some comments about worship music. See if any of this strikes a chord (pun intended) in you.

 

“I am no music scholar, but I feel I know appropriate church music when I hear it. Last Sunday’s new hymn – if you can call it that – sounded like a sentimental love ballad one would expect to hear crooned in a [bar]. If you insist on exposing us to rubbish like this – in God’s house! – don’t be surprised if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship. The hymns we grew up with are all we need.”

 

Sound familiar? Here’s the thing, though. This was from a letter written by a church member in 1863. And the “new hymn” they were referring to? “Just As I Am.”

http://www.lbcpc.org/music-ministers-blog/post/the-controversial-organ

 

Why are we so resistant to change in the church? I have a theory. Now this is just my own armchair psychology that comes from my own 13 years of experience as a minister.

 

The world is full of change. As we age things change. Our bodies change, usually not for the better. Relationships change and can become stressed or estranged. Financial matters change. We experience the change of loved ones dying. Jobs and careers change.

 

With so much change in the world we look for something that doesn’t change. We want to anchor to something that doesn’t change, and we look to the church to be that anchor. We want just one thing to hang on to with all our might in the midst of all of life’s changes, and we want the church to be that one thing.

 

Now to be clear the message of the church doesn’t change. Or it shouldn’t. But the church does change. We don’t chant the psalters. We don’t conduct the service in Latin. We use musical instruments.

 

Last night I was blessed to drive the People Mover to Bossier City, La. for a concert titled, “Winter Jam.” It had many bands and musicians perform and the place was packed! I checked online this morning and the capacity of that place is 14,000 people. Here’s a photo.

 

Now the music was loud. Very loud. There were lights and fog machines and even fireworks. The music was varied from semi-traditional hymns to rap to rock to hard rock. Most of you hear probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

 

So was it worship? Can you have worship with all those things? Absolutely! And the young folks loved it! And I can tell you it is impressive to be among 14,000 people singing praises to God and proclaiming Jesus as savior. It will give you Holy Spirit goosebumps, I guarantee.

 

The message of the church doesn’t change. But the church does change.  The young folks at the concert last night saw this: (show photo). The cross. The symbol of change.

 

The Bible contains so many true stories of change.

 

Noah was told there was going to be a flood and to build a huge boat, even though the sun was shining and it was dry at the time.

 

Moses encountered God at the burning bush and went from being a shepherd out in the boonies to representing God’s people before Pharaoh, the most powerful person in the entire region.

 

David, also a shepherd, bravely gave Goliath a splitting headache when he was still a youth and went on to become a king.

 

Ruth experienced change when her husband and his brothers and their father all died, and yet she went with her mother-in-law Naomi to a land foreign to Ruth to help her out.

 

Jacob was obedient to God which resulted in traveling to foreign lands, leaving behind the comfort and security of home.

 

Esther went from being a mild-mannered Jewish girl to being the queen and putting her life on the line in order to save her people.

 

Four of the disciples, James, John, Andrew, and Peter, walked away from being fishermen to become followers of Jesus.

 

And Paul! Oh we cannot forget about Paul. He went from being a high and mighty church leader with a reputation for persecuting the followers of Jesus to being one of the great leaders of the church, suffering greatly in doing so.

 

Knowing Paul’s background make what he wrote in the scripture we read today even more significant: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

 

When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior then we experience change. It’s a change for the good, no doubt about that, but yet it still is change… And it can be scary.

 

We change because we no longer put ourselves number one on our priority list. We put God and serving him as number one.

 

We change because we resist the wooings of this world and place priority on the things of heaven instead of the things of earth. (That’s what this series, “Upside Down,” is all about.)

 

We change because following Christ forces us out of our comfort zones as we seek to live out lives that bring the Kingdom of God to the earth, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

Even though as humans we resist change, as followers of Christ we are changed. We change. And we are the change.

 

The message of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection never changes. The way it is communicated does change, and has changed throughout the history of the church.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to be the change. As disciples of Jesus Christ we are called to make other disciples. Are you willing to change if it means bringing others to Christ? Are you willing to go through the awkwardness of change in order to introduce a hurting world the salvation found only in Jesus Christ?

 

Years ago Steven Curtis Chapman recorded a song titled, “The Change.” Part of the lyrics are:

 

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

 

You are a new creation through Christ. Don’t keep it to yourself. Be the change.

 

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

 

Upside Down: “Selfishness”

Upside Down: “Selfishness”
A Message on 2 Timothy 3:1-9
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 4, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

2 Timothy 3:1-9 (NRSV)


You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. 2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them! 6 For among them are those who make their way into households and captivate silly women, overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires, 7 who are always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people, of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith, also oppose the truth. 9 But they will not make much progress, because, as in the case of those two men, their folly will become plain to everyone.


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

 

There’s a story about a very wealthy man riding down the road in his limousine when he notices two men on the side of the road. The men are eating grass. He orders his driver to stop and back up to the men. He gets out and asks them, “Why are you eating grass?”

 

“Because we are poor and we don’t have any food. The only thing we have to eat is grass.”

 

“Come and go with me,” the wealthy man said.

 

“But I have a wife and three kids,” said one man. “And I have a wife and six kids,” said the other.”

 

“Fine! Bring them too!”

 

So both families piled into the limo and the wealthy man asked to driver to drive to his house.

 

One of the poor men said, “This really is nice of you to do this. We appreciate our generosity.”

 

The wealthy man replied, “Oh, you will love my place. The grass there is almost a foot high!

 

Today we are continuing our sermon series “Upside Down” by looking at a topic the world tells us is good and which the Bible tells us is bad: selfishness.

 

In the scripture we read today from 2 Timothy, we find Paul giving advice to his young protege Timothy. Paul is describing the “last days” and the characteristics people will exhibit at that time.

 

Now I have seen this scripture posted on Facebook and other social media as proof that we are living in the end times. And in reading the list I can see where people might get that idea. But I also know that the Bible quotes Jesus as saying that nobody is going to know when the end times will be, so I don’t worry about it too much.

 

Now, let’s talk about that list. I’m going to read it again and want you to think about these characteristics and contemplate how many of these fit under the umbrella of selfishness.

 

Here they are: “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…”

 

How many of these characteristics are associated with selfishness? Most of them, aren’t they? Kinda scary, isn’t it, just how much power selfishness can have.

 

Selfishness is putting your own wants and needs in front of others. It is the opposite of humbleness, which we talked about a few weeks ago.

 

I like to think of selfishness as like a two-year-old child screaming “Mine!” when another toddler wants a toy, even if the two-year old isn’t playing with it. It’s the girlfriend in Toby Keith’s song, “I Wanna Talk about Me.”

 

The Bible talks a lot about selfishness. And in case you didn’t know, it isn’t in favor of it.

 

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

 

“How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (1John 3:17)

 

“Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.” (I Corinthians 10:24)

 

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

 

“Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:26)

 

Get the picture?

 

This past week I was surprised to witness an act of selflessness, not selfishness, of all places on morning television.

 

Now I don’t watch morning television normally. Having a bachelor’s degree in journalism it raises my blood pressure to see what passes as “news” during those morning “news” shows. But Pam will sometimes turn one of them on, and this past week that was the case.

 

It happened to be “Good Morning, America,” and I don’t even remember the story they were doing. As part of the hosts’ witty repartee, though, someone told host Michael Strahan, “Yeah, but you won the Super Bowl.” (Strahan used to be a defensive end for the New York Giants.)

 

Without missing a beat Michael replied, “Fifty-three guys won the super bowl.” If you didn’t know it, there are 53 players on an NFL roster.

 

Now Michael could have accepted the compliment and moved on, but he felt it was important to point out that he was only one member of a team of 53 that won the Super Bowl in 2007.

 

Now I don’t know much about Michael Strahan but I certainly will give him a tip of the hat for that his comments. And it was refreshing to see something so opposite to what the world tells us.

 

The world tells us to be selfish. It’s all about me. Look out for number one. I am the greatest. But Jesus turns the world upside down and tells us that selfishness is bad, is not a good thing. I am convinced that you can’t be a follower of Jesus and be selfish. The term “selfish Christian” is an oxymoron, a phrase that contradicts itself.

 

Max Lucado wrote a book several years ago titled, It’s Not About Me: Rescue From the Life We Thought Would Make Us Happy. It’s a great little book which reminds us that as Christians we serve interests bigger than our own. Here’s what Max writes: “God does not exist to make a big deal out of us. We exist to make a big deal out of him. It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s all about him.”

 

Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross because he was not selfish. His concern was not on himself, but on those who needed reconciling to God. He willingly gave himself on the cross for those who couldn’t save themselves. He gave himself for sinners, sinners like us. That’s why we have the Lord’s Supper, so that we will remember his selfless sacrifice out of love for us. That’s why we have baptism: it’s not about what we do, but it is God at work in the water and the spirit.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to not be selfish. In your conversations this week be conscious of how many times you used the word “I” or “me.” Don’t make it all about you. Make it all about Jesus. Talk about Jesus more than you talk about yourself. People are hungry for Jesus. And if you see people that are so hungry they are eating grass, please not only tell them about Jesus but give them some food.

 

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

 

Upside Down: “Meekness”

Upside Down: “Meekness”
A Message on Matthew 5:1-5
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Feb. 18, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 5:1-5 (NRSV)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

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

 

Today we are beginning a sermon series that will run through Lent titled “Upside Down.” We will be looking at the teachings of Jesus that seem “upside down” and backwards from what our world tells us.

 

We’re starting off today with the topic of meekness. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

 

What does it mean to be meek? It’s a word that is falling out of use in our language. One of the most common connotations of the term implies weakness, submissiveness, being walked on. But the term means much more than that. It means righteous, humble, teachable, and patient under suffering, and in biblical terms it means willing to follow gospel teachings.

 

One definition I like is that it is “strength under control.”

 

This past Friday I drove up to Plano to be with my dad in the hospital. My timing was not very good as I got stuck in rush hour traffic. I witnessed two near-wrecks caused by aggressive drivers. Heavy traffic is bad enough, but when you add aggressive drivers to the mix it gets much worse. It’s enough to raise your blood pressure for sure.

 

Those drivers were not practicing meekness. It was all about first-person singular: me. I am the most important. I will drive the way I want to. Get out of the way, I’m more important than you. Just the opposite of meekness.

 

Our world overwhelmingly sees “meek” in a negative light. It’s not something to strive for or  teach our children.

 

  1. Paul Getty, founder of Getty Oil Co. and the richest man in America in the late 50s once said, “The meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights.”

 

There are no academy awards giving for meekness. No Olympic medals. No endorsement deals. No “trending on Facebook.”

 

So why should we strive for meekness?

 

The Apostle Paul knew a lot about meekness. In his letter that we call 2 Timothy he says gives some advice to those who want to follow Christ: “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth…” (2 Timothy 2:24-25, KJV)

 

The Bible talks a lot about meekness. Listen to this from Psalm 37:

 

“8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
   Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
9 For the wicked shall be cut off,
   but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
   though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land,
   and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.”

 

So what does it mean for the meek to inherit the earth?

 

Let’s look at the eschaton, what we call the “end times.”  Well a lot of our thinking of the end times is that we all go to heaven. We even perceive it as being up in the sky .

 

But in the book of Revelation, written by John, it says something different. Listen to this:

 

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them…” (Revelation 21:1-3)

 

Now did you catch that? We don’t go up into heaven to God, but God brings heaven to earth! It’s right there, in the Bible!

 

So now does that change our perspective of the meek inheriting the earth? Hmmmmm.

 

As humans we are caught in the tension between two voices: heaven and earth. The earthly voices tell us that the purpose of life is to satisfy our own selfish desires. They tell us to put ourselves at the center of the universe, to seek power over others, to push others down in order to push ourselves up. They tell us impressions are everything, that money can buy anything, and that happiness is found in things. They tell us to look out for number one.

 

The heavenly voices, however, tell us just the opposite. They tell us to be meek. They tell us to put the needs and desires of others before our own. They tell us things like to forgive our enemies, that if someone wants your coat give them your shirt as well. They tell us that if someone slaps on on the cheek, to turn and give them the other one to slap as well. They tell us the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and that the greatest among us will be a servant.

 

Jesus, a heavenly voice, turns what the world says upside down. He provides, through the scriptures, an opposite voice to the world’s shouting.

 

And one of those things is that the meek will inherit the earth.

 

It doesn’t make logical sense. But then again, much of what Jesus does (and teaches us to do) doesn’t make sense from a worldly perspective.

 

Remember when you were a kid and you got an allowance? You learned that you could take that allowance and spend it right then on something you wanted (even though it wouldn’t buy much),  or you could save it and subsequent allowances and then get something much more valuable.

 

That’s kind of the way it is with meekness. If you are not meek, if you are the opposite of meek, if you are aggressive and self-serving and looking out only for yourself, then you may actually get some rewards in this world, things such as money, power, prestige, etc., but when your earthly life is over all those things will be gone and you’ll get to stand before Jesus to explain your actions.

 

However, if you are upside-down from that, if you are meek, if you focus on God more than on the world, if you love and care about others, if you turn the other cheek and love your neighbors and give your shirt as well as your coat, then you probably won’t receive any accolades, money, power, prestige, etc. But it will be easier to stand before Jesus on judgement day.

 

Matthew 16:26 (as well as Mark 8:36) phrases it this way: “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” Or as the singer Toby Mac puts it, “I don’t want to gain the whole world and lose my soul.”

 

One more illustration of meekness vs. non-meekness.

 

The late Cajun Humorist Justin Wilson (who my dad loved, by the way) told about a friend of his in Louisiana who (with Cajun accent) raised prize winning-Santa Gertrudis cattle.

 

One day this man is at home on his ranch eating lunch when he hears someone knocking loudly on his front door. Boom, boom, boom, boom! He goes to the door and opens it and there is a man who–szchoooom–holds a bidnezz card right up to his eye. The man say, “You see dis card here?”

 

My friend say “Yep, I can’t hep but see it. You almos got it stickin in my eye!”

 

The gubment man say “Dis here card sez I am with the US of DA department of agicuture. Dis here card sez I can go anywhere on your ranch, look at whatever I want to, do whatever I want to do, and you can did nothing about that. You understand dat?

 

My friend say, “Das fine! Go ahead on. Knock youself out wif both hands.” And went back in to finish his lunch.

 

After a few minutes he started to hear something. It sounded like a voice crying out for help. “Hep! Please hep me! Won’t ya hep me!”

 

Well he go about back and look in dat pen where he keep dat big ol Santa Gertrudis bull and he see dat gubment man has done crawled in that pen with date bull and dat bull is chasing him round and round.

 

My frien walk up to da side o dat pen and watch. “Hep! Please hep me! Won’t ya hep me!” Zoom! He watch him go by.

 

“Hep! Please hep me! Won’t ya hep me!” He watch him go by one more once, dat bull inchin ever closer.

 

“Hep! Please hep me! Won’t ya hep me!”

 

My friend say, “Show him dat card. Show dat bull your card!”

 

The rancher in that story exhibited meekness. He didn’t try to prohibit the government man from coming onto his farm and inspecting things.

 

The government man, on the other hand, did not exhibit meekness. He leveraged his power in an attempt to intimidate the rancher. He gained access to the ranch, an immediate reward, but found himself in trouble when he got in the pen with the bull.

 

So my challenge for you today is to be more like the rancher and less like the “gubment” man. During this season of Lent seek to be meek. Make a conscious effort to tune out the siren song of the world whose chorus is that the meek get crushed. Instead focus on things of heaven. Don’t seek the things of the world, but seek the things of heaven.

 

After all, the meek will inherit the earth. I garontee.

 

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

 

Christian Characteristics: “Humbleness”

Christian Characteristics: “Humbleness”
A Message on Matthew 23:1-12

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Feb. 11, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 23:1-12 (NRSV)


Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

 

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

 

We continue our sermon series on “Christian Characteristics by exploring the topic of “humbleness” today.

 

This is a difficult one to talk about for a couple of reason. First, it’s difficult to describe examples of the concept of humbleness because it is so opposite from what the world encourages. And second, it steps on our toes. So, put on your steel toe shoes because here we go.

 

The scripture we read from Matthew’s gospel has Jesus talking about humbleness, or humility, but in a specific context. Jesus was calling out the religious leaders of the day, specifically the scribes and Pharisees.

 

The scribes at the time were the professional interpreters of the law. They actually made copies of religious texts, as their name implies, but they also served somewhat as judges in settling disputes as the writings of Moses were considered the law. They were powerful people in society, and as power often does it went to their heads. They considered themselves more important than others, and there is great danger inherent in that kind of attitude.

 

The other religious leaders Jesus mentions is the Pharisees. They were the big-wigs of the Jewish religion of the day. They wore fancy robes and were treated as the leaders of the society. They lived in the finest houses, ate the best food, and when they walked down the street the common people would move aside to make a path for them.

 

Jesus mentions that they wore phylacteries. Let me show you some photos of what those are. They are small leather boxes that contain very small scrolls of the Mosiac law. They were worn strapped to a man’s left arm and his forehead. These are still worn by traditional Jewish men today for morning prayers.

 

I think the point that Jesus is making is that the Pharisees did all these things not simply for the religious reasons, but they came to view them as symbols that they were set above the common people. They came to see them as proof they were better than everybody else.

 

That attitude still exists in our world today. There are pastors and religious leaders that have slipped into that kind of mindset, and not just among TV preachers. As pastors we are set apart for ministry, but that doesn’t mean we are set above. James 3:1 tells us that pastors and religious teachers are called to higher standards and are judged more harshly, and I agree with that. But it does not mean that pastors and teachers can consider themselves better than any other of God’s children.

 

As Christians in general, we should be humble. We should live lives of humility and heed the words of the Apostle Paul: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

 

It’s not easy to be humble. Years ago Mac Davis wrote a song titled “Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble.” One of the things that made that song so memorable was the irony in it. Here is the chorus:

 

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
Cause I get better looking each day
To know me is to love me
I must be a hell of a man
Oh Lord It’s hard to be humble,
But I’m doing the best that I can

 

Unfortunately there are Christians with that kind of attitude when it comes to spiritual matters. Coming to church, participating in or even leading a small group, reading the Bible, tithing, and regular prayers are all good things and can move us closer to Christ, but they don’t make us better or set us above our brothers and sisters who never set foot in a church.

 

The problem with humility is that when it is done correctly we rarely hear about it. Let’s face it, if people brag about being humble that very act proves that they are not.

 

In the scripture we read today Jesus tells us not to be like the scribes and Pharisees. He wants us to be just the opposite. “The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 

Let’s try something. Think about a number line of one through 10. One is being as humble as possible. 10 is being self-centered and as egotistical as possible. Where do you rank yourself on that number line? What number are you? And don’t lie. Tell the truth and shame the devil.

 

Now, where would others rank you? What number do you think they would give you?

 

Hmmmmm.

 

Today we had two adult baptisms. These women made the decision to make a public proclamation that they have accepted Jesus as their Lord and savior, and they were willing to stand in front of all of you and get wet–one of them real wet!–to participate in the holy rite that initiates us into the church.

 

The liturgy that we read, the words that we say as part of the baptism, are the same for everybody. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what color skin your have or language you speak, if your past has been filled with sin or if you have lived an obedient life.

 

Baptism is a great equalizer. Through this sacrament we become one with Christ. Our sins are washed away and the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Baptism is humbling, a time when we announce publicly that we know we can’t do everything by ourselves, we are in need of a savior.

 

So my challenge for you this week is to be humble. Practice humility in all that you do. Don’t do it for the attention (which is self-defeating), don’t do it because you think humility will make you better than others (again, self-defeating), but because Jesus modeled humility for us and we want to be like Jesus.

 

“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 

Lord, it’s hard to be humble. Help us to be humble for the right reasons.

 

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

 

Christian Characteristics: “Childlike Faith”

Christian Characteristics: “Childlike Faith”
A Message on Mark 10:13-16

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 28, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Mark 10:13-16 (NRSV)

 

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

 

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

 

Today we are continuing our sermon series on “Christian Characteristics” by looking at one that is near and dear to my heart: “Childlike Faith.”

 

One of the characteristics children have that I think is great–and which I think we as adults should emulate–is that of seeing others through unbiased eyes. They don’t classify others according to their skin color or income level or what language they speak or which part of town they live in.

 

One of our kids, I think it was Emily but it could have been Sarah, would come home from elementary school talking about what her and her friends had done and just normal kid things. She had one friend that she really was really close to. She would tell us about what they had done at recess, what they talked about, etc.

 

Several months went by and then we were at some event where Emily and her best friend were both at and she introduced her to me and Pam. The young girl was African American. At first I was kind of surprised that Emily had never mentioned that, and then as I thought about it more I was kind of proud that she hadn’t. I realized that Emily never mentioned it because through her eyes as a child it didn’t matter to her. It wasn’t important. She saw her friend through eyes that weren’t prejudiced or racist. She saw her friend as Jesus sees all his children.

 

That is just one factor that I fascinates me about children. These tiny human beings with souls are created in ways we don’t really understand. Yes, science teaches us about the biology of reproduction and how babies are made, but at what point does consciousness come into play? When does a baby have a soul?

 

And as they grow they are fascinated by almost everything. They ask questions, most notably, “Why?”

 

It took me a while to learn with our kids. Sarah was the first and also the one who asked it the most. She would ask me something like, “Daddy, why is the sky blue?” And I would tell her it was because of the molecular structure of the air in the atmosphere and as the light from the sun enters the atmosphere the light from the blue end of the spectrum is scattered more and thus the sky appears to be blue.

 

“But why?” would be the response.

 

Well, that’s just the way it is, I would say.

 

“But why?”

 

Finally, in exasperation, I would say, “Because that’s the way God wants it!”

 

It took me a while but I finally learned that I could greatly shorten the list of “why” questions by skipping straight to my final answer.

 

“Daddy, why does it rain?”

 

“Because that’s the way God wants it.”

 

Children learn without limits. They don’t perceive things such as creativity as having limits.

 

There is the story of the kindergarten teacher who gave the students an assignment to draw whatever they wanted. The teacher is walking around the room and sees this one girl just drawing away. The teacher asks, “What are you drawing?”

 

“God,” the little girl says without even looking up.

 

“Oh, honey. No one knows what God looks like,” the teacher said.

 

Without looking up or missing a beat, the little girl says, “They will in a minute.”

 

I think as adult Christians part of our challenge is that we have been drilled out of asking “why” questions about our faith. We have put the fascination parts of our brains on “do not disturb” and have place restrictive limits on our God-given creativity and talents.

 

Wednesday night I sat in with the Junior UMY for their lesson. The subject was fatherly characteristics of God but the young people asked so many questions we got into some deep discussions on the Trinity as well as how God transcends the space time continuum. (“There never was a time when God was not.”) They were curious and fascinated by faith issues and asked plenty of “why” questions. (And no I don’t think I answered any with “Because that’s the way God wants it.”)

 

I think as adults we need to regain the fascination that we had as children, especially when it comes to our faith journey.

 

In the scripture we read today from the Gospel of Mark we find that people were bringing their children to Jesus. The disciples, being the serious-minded adults that they were, thought this was horrible and started chiding the parents.

 

We don’t know exactly what the disciples were saying to the parents but I figure it was something like, “Get those kids away from here! The Master has too many important things to do and doesn’t have time to mess with those kids!”

 

I think it was the ancient equivalent of “Get off my yard!” “Get away from the Savior!”

 

And what does Jesus do? The scripture says he was “indignant.” That implies anger! The King James Version of the Bible says he was “much displeased.”

 

And then he does something which would have been shocking in the day: he not only tells disciples to back off and not interfere with the kids coming to him, but “for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

 

I think it’s hard for us to perceive the shock value that this statement would have had at the time. In the first century children were to be kept out of sight and out of mind for the most part.

 

We had a similar view of children in our society not that long ago. How many of you  remember going to a family reunion or church covered dish event years ago and the tradition was for the men to go first, the women to go second, and then, finally, the children went last. Now at nearly every function I go to it is the children who eat first, and then the men and women mingle and go at the same time.

 

As adult Christians we still have many in our churches who still believe that when it comes to children they should be last. We want them to come to church be act and behave as adults.

 

A pastor friend of mine posted something on Facebook that he had read from the book, Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship by Robbie Fox Castleman.

 

“In many of our modern, sophisticated congregations, children are often viewed as distractions. We tolerate children only to the extent they promise to become ‘adults’ like us. Adult members sometimes complain that they cannot pay attention to the sermon, they cannot listen to the beautiful music, when fidgety children are beside them in the pews.’Send them away,’ many adults say…

 

“These professors at Duke University conclude their point by noting, Interestingly, Jesus put a child in the center of his disciples, ‘in the midst of them,’ in order to help them pay attention…. The child was a last-ditch effort by God to help the disciples pay attention to the odd nature of God’s kingdom. Few acts of Jesus are more radical, countercultural, than his blessing of children.”

 

What if in our spiritual lives instead of trying to make children be out of sight and out of mind we instead learned to be more like them? What if children became role models for adults?

 

Our Methodist Readiness School kids performed for us today at the beginning of our service. Weren’t they awesome! You may not know but these young folks have chapel every Wednesday at 10:30 here in the sanctuary. Our children’s director, Meredith MeDonald, does a short devotional (which are awesome, by the way) I have the honor and privilege (and I really mean that) of playing guitar and leading them in singing.

 

Wednesday morning are one of the highlights of my week. To see these 75 little heads bobbing up and down and singing about God and Jesus fills my heart with joy! And I get to thinking, “What if every member of this church was as excited about Jesus as these young kids are?”

 

Spiritually we can learn a lot from children.

 

I want to show you a short video of a little girl who is fascinated by, of all things, rain. As you watch it, I want us to think of our faith lives. What if we were as fascinated and enthusiastic about being disciples of Jesus Christ as this little girl is about rain? What if we lifted our arms up in praise and embraced the memory of the water of our baptisms flowing over us, cleansing us from our sins and initiating us into a new way of life?

 

(Show video.)  https://youtu.be/mxmmvHsDeuI

 

I want to follow up that video with a scripture that is similar to the one we read today from the Gospel of Mark. This comes from the 18th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. As I read it I want you I want to show you another video, this one of some kids playing. As you watch the video and listen to the scripture reflect on the childlike qualities of your faith.

 

(Show video, no sound.)

 

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. (Matthew 18:1-5)

 

My challenge to you this week is to develop your childlike faith. Seek to be a disciple of Jesus with all the awe and wonder and fascination of a child. Live each day and hour and minute fully, embracing all the joy of the little things. Play well with others, share and take turns, see people as Jesus sees them not by the prejudicial ways our society wants us to see them.

 

Because that’s the way God wants it.

 

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

 

Christian Characteristics: Mercy

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