Methodist Vows: Service

Methodist Vows: “Service”
A Message on Matthew 20:25-28

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

January 27, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Matthew 20:25-28 (NRSV)

 

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. It will not be so among you; but 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.”

 

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Let me see a show of hands. How many of you know who David Andrews is? How about Joe Thuney? Trent Brown? Shaq Mason? Marcus Cannon? Anyone? (Bueller? Bueller?)

 

Okay, let’s try again. How many of you know who John Sullivan is? How about Rodger Saffold? Andrew Whitworth? Austin Blythe? Rob Havenstein? Anyone?

 

Alright, let’s try another direction. How many of you know who Tom Brady is. (And please, no cursing. God loves him, too.) How about Sony Michel, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, or Rob Gronkowski?

 

How many of you know who Jared Goff is? How about Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Josh Reynolds, or Tyler Higbee?

 

If you haven’t figured it out by now, those are the names of the starting players on offense for the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams, the two teams who will be playing a week from tonight in Super Bowl LIII.

 

Now if you didn’t know those first two sets of names don’t feel bad. Those are the offensive linemen for each of the teams, the troops in the trenches. About the only time they get their name announced or shown on tv are when they get called for holding or some other penalty.

 

And yet… the success of the team is very much dependent on how they do their jobs.

 

In many ways they have servant roles, don’t they? They serve to protect the quarterback on passing plays, and they serve to create holes for the running backs to run through on running plays.

 

I think that’s one of the reasons that I can’t stand what I call “look-at-me” touchdown celebrations. One person may have scored the touchdown, but he had a lot of folks doing some serious blocking in order for him to be able to do that. Instead of acting the fool in the end zone with egotistical gyrations exclaiming how great he is he ought to be back at the line of scrimmage giving big ol’ bear hugs to the guys who just blocked the defensive players and made it possible for him to score a touchdown.

 

Today we are going to continue our sermon series on the vows we make when we join the United Methodist Church by looking at the topic of “service.”

 

When we join the church we vow to support it with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. So what does it mean to support the church with our service?

 

I think the best place to begin is with the scriptures, of course.

 

In the scripture we read from the 20th chapter of Matthew we find Jesus explaining to the disciples about servant leadership. And he tells them that whoever wants to be great has to be a servant.

 

Now when looking at scriptures it is important to look at their context. What was happening before and after it was written?

 

In this case we find Jesus trying to prepare the disciples for what is about to happen. In the very next chapter we find Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Going the other way, at the beginning of chapter 20 we find Jesus telling the parable of the workers in the vineyard followed by the third time he tells the disciples about his upcoming death and resurrection.

 

And then, right after that, the mother of James and John come to Jesus and asks him to place her sons at his right and left hands in his kingdom. Now I find it interesting that the mom makes this request, not James and John themselves. (Was she the original “helicopter mom”?)

 

Somehow the other 10 disciples catch wind of this and as you imagine they are kind of upset. The scripture we read today is Jesus responding to that anger. He basically is saying that they have it all wrong.

 

It’s not a competition to see who is the best disciple. That’s a worldly voice. The heavenly voice –the Jesus voice– is an attitude of serving others.

 

Jesus was telling the disciples that they had to choose which voice to listen to. We are faced with the same choice. So which voice are you going to listen to? Which voice are you going to follow?

 

Part of the challenge of being a Christian today is to overcome the consumerist mentality that pervades our culture.

 

Pam and I watch some of these home renovation shows on HGTV, and I there are some things about those shows I just don’t understand.

 

First of all we can’t figure out how these young couples come up with huge amounts of money to buy these houses. How can you be in your early 30s and have $1.3 million to spend on a house?

 

But what irritates me even more is when they go through and look at the houses they are so… how should I put this… picky! Oh my gosh, are they picky!

 

They’ll say things like, “Oh, this looks so dated,” or “I don’t like that,” or “This doesn’t have an open floor plan and I want an open floor plan,” or “This doesn’t have marble countertops. I want marble countertops.” They’ll even go so far to say, “This is horrible,” or “This is ugly.”

 

We have been trained to be consumers and to be… well… picky. And that even extends when it comes to church, unfortunately. We come to church like we go to a store: with the expectation of getting something from it instead of what we can give to the kingdom of God.

 

We can develop the mindset of having the church as a spiritual vending machine. We put our money in and then we pick what we want, what we like, and expect to get it. “Let’s see, today I’d like some organ music and only hymns that I know and am familiar with, no kids making noises, I want to sit in my spot in my pew, and I don’t want the sermon to step on my toes. Oh, and I want us to get out on time or even a little early.”

 

Contrast that with Jesus words: “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 afternoon our district will be having a leadership meeting. We are basing it on our bishop’s initiative to “We Love All God’s Children.” Our own children’s director, Natalie Dawson, will be there to share about our Mini Methodists program and encourage other churches to offer similar programs.

 

Natalie will tell you that one big reasons for the success of Mini Methodists is because of volunteers. We simply could not have the program without those with servants’ hearts who volunteer each week.

 

It takes about 40 volunteers for Mini Methodists to happen every week. A lot of churches are shocked to hear that, but it’s the truth. And it is something most churches could do. It all comes down to having enough people with a servant’s heart willing to do it.

 

When we join the church we pledge to support it with our service. We don’t pledge that we will just show up for what we will receive, even if that is to charge our spiritual batteries on Sunday and leave. We pledge to support it with our service.

 

When we think of “service” many things come to mind. We think of the waitstaff of a restaurant when we go out to eat and the “service” they provide us. And if they do a good job we even leave them tips to express our gratitude.

 

We think of those in the military “service,” who leave families and home to serve their country. Many give years and years of their lives in the service of their country. And some give their lives.

 

We used to think of “service stations,” where you would pull up in your automobile and a person would pump your gas, check your oil, check the oil in your tires, and wash your windshield. (Our own Kent Westbrook has one the last of these service stations in existence, which I think is really cool!)

 

There are people like our own Tim Swinney who provide lawn services. Tim and his crew will show up and mow your grass, trim around the sidewalks and streets, and make your place look great.

 

There are others I could mention, but all of these have one thing in common: the “services” they do are done for others, not themselves.

 

The Bible is very clear on the point of serving. Here are some examples:

 

“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” — 1 Peter 4:10

 

“It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself.” — Galatains 5:13-14, (The Message)

 

And what I find to be one of the most beautiful example that Jesus gives of servant leadership, “After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “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.” — John 13:12-14

 

If Jesus, our Lord and Savior, God’s only Son, came not to be served but to serve, then maybe we ought to do the same thing.

 

Years ago, 1979 to be precise,  Dylan wrote and recorded a song about serving, appropriately titled, “Serve Somebody.”

 

Now it has seven verses and I thought about getting my guitar and singing all seven of them, each followed by a chorus, but you will be glad to know that I chose not to do that. (Did I hear an “Amen”?)

 

But here are some of the lyrics:

 

You may be an ambassador to England or France

You may like to gamble, you might like to dance

You may be the heavyweight champion of the world

You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

 

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes

Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

 

You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage

You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage

You may be a business man or some high-degree thief

They may call you doctor or they may call you chief

 

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are

You’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

 

So, who are you going to serve? Are you going to serve the devil, or are you going to serve the Lord?

 

So my challenge to you this week is to serve the Lord by serving in your church. Live out your membership vow to support this church with your service.

 

To paraphrase John F. Kennedy (who likely paraphrased the poet Kahlil Gibran by the way), “Ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your church.”

 

And I predict that the Super Bowl next Sunday will be won by the team that has the best servant players, the best offensive line.

 

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



Methodist Vows: Gifts

Methodist Vows: “Gifts”
A Message on Romans 12:3-8

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

January 20, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Romans 12:3-8 (NRSV)

 

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

 

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Gifts are a curious thing, aren’t they?

 

There’s the story of a woman who told here husband one morning, “Honey, I had the strangest dream last night. I dreamed you gave me a long, beautiful pearl necklace. What do you think that means?”

 

“I don’t know,” he replied. “But you might find out tonight.”

 

That evening the husband comes home and hands is wife a package that is neatly gift-wrapped. “Is this what I think it is?” the wife asks as she unwraps the package. After getting the package open she saw that her hands held a book titled, “The Meaning of Dreams.”

 

Today we’re continuing our sermon series on the vows we make when we join the United Methodist Church. We have already explored “prayers” and “presence,” so today we are going to explore “gifts.”

 

What does it mean to support the United Methodist Church with our gifts?

 

One of the things that comes to mind is money. We are called to support the church with our tithes and offerings.

 

Now I’m not going to be like the preachers of the “Prosperity Gospel” that have turned God into some sort of investment machine. I don’t believe the scriptures tell us that. I do believe that financial giving to the church will result in blessings, but I also will tell you that blessings come in many different forms.

 

So why do we pledge to support the church with our funds? Well, it’s very Biblical. In the Old Testament the scriptures tell the people of Israel to bring their first-born animals, the first fruits of their crops, to the tabernacle or temple as a sacrifice to God.

 

To me one of the most beautiful stories of the importance of sacrifice happens in 2 Samuel 24. There we find God telling David to go to the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite and to build an altar. David goes and talks with Araunah and when Araunah finds out that King David wants it, he offers to give it to the king for free, along with oxen for a sacrifice. But David declines, saying, “No, but I will buy them from you for a price; I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”

 

Our gift of tithes and offerings should cost us something. They should remind us of what’s really important in this life and to stay focused on the things that are above, not the things of this earth.

 

Our funds are not the only kind of gift we pledge to give the church, though. We are to give of the gifts of our talents and skills as well.

 

In the scripture we read today from Paul’s letter to the Romans he points out that God has created us with different gifts. “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:6-8)

 

We don’t all have the same gifts. Paul uses the body as a metaphor to describe how we each have different gifts, and yet those different parts, the different gifts, come together for the greater good. In terms of supporting the church with our gifts, that greater good is the Kingdom of God.

 

Now Paul listed some of those gifts: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhorting, generosity, leadership, and compassion. But that is not an all encompassing list. Those are examples–and great examples, no doubt–of gifts, but it is not meant to be an exhaustive list.

 

Let me tell you about a gift I have witnessed one of our members give every Wednesday afternoon. George Griffin, at 91 years old, walks around Waller Hall during Mini Methodists carrying two pitchers, one in each hand. In one is pink lemonade, in the other is ice water. George goes from table to table filling the drinks of the almost 100 or so kids. They even have a system worked out: if a child needs a drink to be filled or refilled, he or she raises a hand and George shows up to pour them their beverage of choice. George, and other volunteers, do this every week.

 

Well this past week George was under the weather and couldn’t make it to Mini Methodists. I volunteered to “fill in” for him (get it, “filling” cups? Oh, nevermind…) and pour drinks.

 

Now it wasn’t told to me, but one of the other volunteers had a young boy come up to them at Mini Methodists and ask, “Where’s that guy?”

 

“What guy?” the volunteer asked.

 

“You know, that guy. That guy that is always here.”

 

“Oh, you mean Mr. George? The man that pours drinks?”

 

The little boy got excited. “Yeah! That’s him. Mr. George. Where is he today?”

 

The volunteer explained that George was sick and wasn’t able to make it. The little boy got a disappointed look on his face and said something like “Oh. I hope he gets better soon,” and then ran away to play.

 

Now I tell this because I find great beauty in what happened. What George does on Wednesdays is not very glamorous. It’s not very peaceful. The kids are talking and laughing like kids do and it’s loud. And they are moving back and forth between the window where the food is served and the tables. It is semi-organized chaos.

 

And yet George offers his simple gift, pouring drinks for children, and offers it for God’s kingdom every Wednesday. You wouldn’t even think the kids would even notice him.

 

But they do. At least one young boy does. George’s simple gift planted seeds of grace in that young boy, even though there is an 80-plus year age difference. And it made a difference in that boy’s life, enough so that he noticed on the one day that George wasn’t able to be there.

 

That’s just one small example.

 

Here’s another.

 

Every Sunday after Praise and Prayer, young Tilden McKnight comes up to the front and helps the Out of the Boat members put up sound equipment to get the sanctuary ready for the 10:30 service. Tilden has a gift for winding up cords and putting away microphones. And he does it every Sunday.

 

There are so many others I could tell you about.

 

I could tell you about Ben Hamilton who uses his gifts of understanding electronic things to bring out the lift and change the light bulbs in this sanctuary (and folks, that’s a long way up there), or to run our video board every Sunday so that those at home and at nursing homes can view our worship services.

 

I could tell you about Godbey Acker and Todd Travis, who give their gifts of understanding computers and software to create and display the visuals on our screens.

 

The list could go on and on.

 

We pledge, we make a covenant, to support the church with our gifts when we become members. So, how are you supporting the church with your gifts? How are you using the gifts God gave you? Are you fulfilling the vow you made when you joined the church to support it with your gifts?

 

The best reason to support the church with our gifts is because we are the recipients of the greatest gift ever given: Jesus Christ. God sent his son into our world to do what we cannot do for ourselves. We don’t earn it. We can’t buy it. We don’t even deserve it. And yet this gift, this gift of grace, is extended to us by God himself because he loves us. Love is the reason.

 

I subscribe to a weekly posting of quotes from the late Christian singer and songwriter Rich Mullins. I received this one yesterday that talks about gifts.

 

“You know, sometimes we think that everything is changing, but I’ll [tell] you what – the same moon is up there tonight, the same stars that Abraham saw. They’re all up there. And the same God that put them there and made them shine, He’s still there too. And I don’t know what life has for you. I don’t know what life has for me, but I know this. I know that God is good. And I know that God does not lie. And I know that God has given us the gift of our lives. Sometimes we wish He would have given us someone else’s life, but He chose to give you your life. Don’t despair of it.” — R. Mullins [LeSEA Seminar Feb 11/12, 1994]

 

So my challenge to you this week is to support the church with your gifts. Prayerfully reflect on how you can use the gifts God gave you to further his kingdom here on earth. Use your gifts to be the Body of Christ. How can you make a difference that can have eternal consequences? It doesn’t have to be much. It can be pouring drinks like George Griffin. But use those gifts.

 

That’s a lot better gift than a book titled, The Meaning of Dreams.

 

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

 

Methodist Vows: Prayers

Methodist Vows: “Prayers”
A Message on Ephesians 6:18-20

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

January 6, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Ephesians 6:18-20  (NRSV)

 

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

 

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Today we begin a 5-week sermon series on the membership vows we take as United Methodists, pledging to support the church with our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.”

 

This is something we ask of people when they join the United Methodist Church, and when someone joins everyone responds by renewing our own vow to support the church in these five ways. “Will you faithfully participate in its ministries with your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness?”

 

Today, on this Epiphany Sunday, we will begin the series–and the new year–by exploring the first of those five things we say in our vows: prayers.

 

When we join the church we vow before God and the congregation to support the church with our prayers. But what exactly is prayer?

 

Prayer is simply a conversation with God.

 

I remember as a kid I thought prayer was somehow this fancy, complicated thing that I didn’t understand. I didn’t think I could pray because I didn’t know the big words that preachers used like firmament or cherubim and seraphim. I thought it was like a special language filled with religious words and that if I didn’t use those fancy words then not only would God not hear your prayers, but he would be angry with me and might “smite” me. And while I wasn’t for sure what it meant to be “smited” (or is it “smote”?) I was pretty confident I didn’t want any part of it.

 

Now I don’t know where I got that idea from but I later found out that it was wrong. Prayer is simply communicating the God.

 

Now if you have ever had a communication or maybe a speech class you are probably familiar with a diagram like this. Communication needs someone to send a message, whether it’s verbal or not, and someone to receive the message. In between there can be some noise or interference that can affect how the message is received, but still the message is sent and received. And then there is feedback. Often the person receiving the message communicates back to the sender, and the cycle repeats itself.

 

I think this applies to our prayer life as well, with some differences. We are the sender of the message, the person praying, and God receives the message and sends us feedback. He responds to our prayers. Now there can be interference with our prayers, but they all come from us or our world, not from God. We can let things like busy-ness, pride, or even a feeling of unworthiness interfere with us praying to God. But these things differ from the communication model in that the interference often comes before we pray and prevents us from praying.

 

The cool thing about prayer is that God always hears them. There really is no interference between your prayers and God receiving them. It’s a straight shot and the network is never down. It is always available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

 

Now all that being said, God responds in his own time and way, not necessarily the way we want him to. And not necessarily with the answer we are wanting.

 

God generally responds in one of several ways: 1. Yes, 2. No, 3. Not yet, or 4. I have something better in mind…

 

Say we are experiencing difficulty in our life and we pray to God to give us patience. We may even pray something like, “Dear Lord, give me patience, and give it to me NOW!” More often than not God will not necessarily give you patience, but will provide opportunities for you to experience practicing patience.

 

And sometimes we pray for the wrong things. God is not a spiritual Amazon.com where your prayers to God are things you want. Jesus half-brother James writes about this in the fourth chapter of his book: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)

 

It is very easy for us as humans to focus our prayers on ourselves. Let me ask you a question: how many times are your prayers focused on yourself and how many times are they focused on others? Yes, it’s okay for us to pray to God for ourselves, but I think we have a responsibility as Christians to pray for others as much as we pray for ourselves.

 

And while it’s great to have prayer before meals and at bedtime we should work on developing the habit of praying continually.

 

Now this is not going to be easy, but I think it is something each one of us should strive for. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

 

He says something similar in the scripture we read today from Ephesians 6: “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.” (Ephesians 6:18-20)

 

We have to remember that Paul wrote this epistle (letter) while in a prison. Most scholars think he wrote this and the epistle to the Colossians while sitting in a prison in Rome, which was the very center of the Roman Empire. So times were not good for Paul when he wrote these scriptures, and yet, in spite of being in prison and his life hanging in the balance, he still proclaims “…I must speak.”

 

He asks for prayers, not just for himself, but for “all the saints.” And he asks the Ephesians to pray “in the Spirit.”

 

We understand that phrase to pray “in the Spirit” more if we look at Paul’s writings in my favorite chapter of the Bible, Romans 8:26-27. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

 

So in Paul’s terms the “saints” aren’t those who have believed in Christ and died, it is for those who are believers and still alive.

 

So praying “in the Spirit” means having faith that the Holy Spirit will intercede for us if we can’t come up with the right words to say. Have the prayer in your heart, and the Spirit will take care of the rest.

 

I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrased Ephesians 6 in his The Message paraphrase: “Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”

 

And last but certainly not least, we should remember that Jesus did a lot of praying. And we should be more like Jesus, right? So we also should do a lot of praying.

 

So my challenge for you on this first Sunday of the new year is to remember your vow to pray for the church. Pray for us as a church to focus on reaching the lost. Pray for me as your pastor. Pray for the staff. Pray for the volunteers. Pray for those who are ill and frail.

 

And pray for each one of us to be like Paul and have the boldness to speak the redeeming message of Jesus Christ not only with our words, but also with our actions. Having received the elements of the Lord’s Supper today and remembering the sacrifice Jesus made for each one of us, let us be his hands in feet in our world.

 

And let us pray long and hard.

 

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



He Is Born!

“He Is Born!”
A Message on Luke 2:8-20

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Luke 2:8-20  (NRSV)

 

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

 

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

   and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

 

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

 

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Babies are great, aren’t they? And if you ask me, miraculous, too.

 

It still boggles my mind to think that Pam and I created life. Two lives! Yes, I know the biology and the science behind it (of which I will not go into detail here, if that’s what you are wondering), but it still boggles my mind to come to the realization that new life was created, living, breathing, sentient, new human beings with souls. Wow!

 

And to be present at the birth of a baby I think is a holy thing.

 

The birth of our daughters was a holy thing. I remember someone telling me before the birth of our first daughter, Sarah, about the incredible love that parents feel when they hold their baby for the very first time.

 

It’s not that I didn’t believe them, but when it finally happened I had not anticipated just how powerful–and–holy it would be.

 

Babies are celebrated. People come to the hospital bringing gifts and balloons and flowers, and they all line up outside the widows of the nursery to see the newborn babies, searching the nameplates for “their” baby.

 

Having a baby really is a big deal. A really, really big deal. It is a life changing event. Nothing is ever the same afterwards.

 

It was a big deal back in the first century as well.

 

As you can imagine the infant mortality rate at the time was much higher than it is now. According to some scholarly estimates, about 1 in 3 babies died before their first birthday. That is a startling statistic but that was reality of life in the first century.

 

Children were important for several reasons: security (especially if the children were male), labor (there were no child labor laws), and to take care of their parents in old age.

 

So when a child was born it was a big deal. It was great event. It was a celebration.

 

Mary and Joseph were in a peculiar situation, however, with the birth of Jesus. As we talked about last week, they had gone back to Bethlehem so that Joseph could be counted in the census and pay the census tax. He had to go to Bethlehem because he descended from the House of David, who was from Bethlehem.

 

It also fulfilled scripture. We don’t know if Mary and Joseph were aware at the time of what was written in the 5th chapter of the book of the prophet Micah: “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”

 

So Mary and Joseph get to Bethlehem and as they get there Jesus is born. Not in a nice house, not in a palace, not even in a house at all, but a stable, a place where livestock is housed.

 

We are not told in the scriptures but Mary probably did not have anyone to help her during her labor and childbirth of Jesus. Joseph may have been the only one present, with little to no training with regards to childbirth.

 

There were no relatives showing up with balloons or flowers. No friends visiting and bringing casseroles. It couldn’t have seemed like much of a celebration.

 

But then we read the scripture we read from Luke. Shepherds were outside Bethlehem, taking care of their sheep as they always did. Night time was a dangerous time for sheep. Sheep really don’t have any defense mechanisms to fight back against predators. As my grandfather, who used to raise sheep, used to say, “Sheep don’t need a reason to die.” They were easy pickins’ for coyotes, wolves, bears, and especially lions. As a result the shepherd had to keep a lookout all through the night for nocturnal carnivores looking for something to eat.

 

Because they spent their time outdoors with their animals the shepherds couldn’t have been very clean. They probably didn’t smell very good, either. They weren’t high in the social order, either. It was an honorable occupation, but certainly not a prestigious one. And not an easy one, either.

 

And yet… And yet…

 

These are the very people that God chooses as the first ones (besides Mary and Joseph, of course) to hear the news that the Messiah had come. It wasn’t the rich and mighty people of the time, it wasn’t the Jewish religious leaders, it wasn’t the Roman rulers. Nope. It was shepherds. Just plain, dirty, stinky, Shepherds. Proof once again that God doesn’t call the equipped, but he equips the called.

 

But let’s take a closer look at what the Shepherds do after they visit the baby Jesus. The scripture from Luke tells us “they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.”

 

They didn’t keep it to themselves. They shared the good news of the birth of Jesus. They “made known.” The NIV translation says they “spread the word.” The King James version says they “made known abroad.” The Message says they “told everyone they met.”

 

The baby Jesus was–and still is–big news. It was a life changing event. Things will never be the same. That is why we celebrate it today.

 

You see the baby Jesus born in a manger in Bethlehem is a big deal because it needs to be viewed through the cross of Calvary.

 

This is a cross that my wife, Pam, bought several years ago. She doesn’t even remember where she bought it, but we bring it out with all our other Christmas decorations every year.

 

I like the theology of it. It illustrates the story of Jesus birth but does so in the shape of a cross. For the baby born in Bethlehem goes on to die on the cross of Calvary. And he does so in order that we may be offered salvation. THAT is a big deal, a story worth telling.

 

But who are we telling? Or are we telling at all? Are we like the shepherds, telling everyone we meet?

 

Is Christmas more about what we get, or is it more about what we give?

 

So my challenge to you this Christmas Eve is to, to quote the old hymn, “go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”

 

Remember that Christmas is the celebration of when God comes to earth. This baby is a big thing. This baby changes everything. Things will never be the same, because this baby is the salvation of the world, the one who gives his life for every human being. This baby is God’s grace given to us, not because we deserve it or earn it, but because he loves us.

 

So let’s go, and tell it on the mountain.

 

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



Road Trip

“Road Trip”
A Message on Luke 2:1-7

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Dec. 16, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Luke 2:1-7  (NRSV)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

 

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When I was a teenager one of the fun things to do was to go on a “road trip.” A group of people would load into a car  or vehicle and drive somewhere.

 

Our science club even took a road trip when I was in high school. After a football game one Friday night the club members and a couple of our teachers loaded up in a school bus and left in the middle of the night to head to NASA in Houston and then also Galveston. We drove all night (it is about a 5 and a half hour trip) and got to Houston the next morning.

 

We went to NASA and saw lots of things there, then drove on down to Galveston and explored the beach for a few hours. After just a couple of hours, we loaded up the bus and drove back home. It was a short but great road trip. I just remember being so tired when I got home, but I still had to get up the next morning, do my chores, and then go to Sunday School and church.

 

It was a big deal for our little school. It was such a big deal that a photo of our group at the beach in Galveston was featured on the cover of our high school yearbook, The Growl, that year.

 

In the scripture we read today Luke tells us of a first century road trip. This road trip was a lot different from the one I just described.

 

I got on Google maps and looked to see how far Bethlehem was from Nazareth. Turns out that if you are driving it’s about 157 kilometers, which is about 97.5 miles. Now as the crow flies it’s only about 70 miles but there are no roads straight there. So 97.5 miles it is driving, taking a little over two hours.

 

The distance was the same in the first century, but there was a difference. You see Samaria was between Nazareth, up in Galilee, and Bethlehem, which is south of Jerusalem. There was bad blood at the time between the Jewish people and the Samaritans, so much so that the Jews would travel on routes that added extra miles to the trip just to keep from going through Samaria. (That’s why Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is so powerful.)

 

Now it wasn’t a pleasure trip for Mary and Joseph. The Romans, who ruled the area with a fierce military presence, sent out notices that they were going to take a census. When we think of a census we think of counting people and demographic information and that’s pretty much it. But at the time a census meant no only did you have to get counted, but you had to pay money similar to a tax as well.

 

So even though it was a Roman tax, they let the Jewish people conduct it in a Jewish way. That meant that all adult males were expected to travel to their tribal ancestral home (remember the 12 tribes of Israel?) in order to be counted and pay the census tax.

 

So word comes to the town of Nazareth that this census is coming down. Joseph had to make a big ol’ sigh when he heard it because he knew it meant going on a long road trip. Not only that but his wife-to-be was with child.

 

Now we often think of Mary as riding on a donkey on the trip to Bethlehem but we really don’t know. There is no mention of it in the scriptures, just that they made the trip. Donkeys were used as beasts of burden in that day so it is certainly possible. Whether she walked or whether she rode on a donkey, either way it could not have been easy for a pregnant Mary to make the trip.

 

The 70-mile straight-line distance probably ended up being closer to 80 or 90 miles by the route Mary and Joseph used which, as mentioned, went around Samaria.

 

Historians and scholars speculate about how long it took the couple to make it to Bethlehem. One article I read said that the longest documented trip in one day during that era was about 20 miles under good conditions. Mary and Joseph’s route wasn’t flat, but through part of a desert and up and down hills. They probably only made about 10 miles a day.

 

There were hazards along the trip as well. The part of the route went along the Jordan River, which had forests that had lions, bears, and even wild boars. Plus there were two-legged animals to fear as well. Bandits often struck travelers along the route, robbing them (remember that Joseph had money on him to pay the census tax) and even beating or killing them.

 

So 10 miles a day, along a dangerous 90-mile route, meant that the couple would be traveling for about nine days. And there were no Motel 6s to leave the light on for them. I’m sure there were nights when they found shelter wherever they could, kind of the equivalent of camping out.

 

So you can imagine how tired they must have been when they finally got to Bethlehem. And then to find out that there was no place for them to stay must have really been disappointing. Extremely disappointing. And then Mary goes into labor. Oh boy…

 

Now we don’t know exactly what was going through the minds of Mary and Joseph but if it was me I’d probably be having some stern conversations with God. “Really, God? Seriously? Can’t you cut us a break? I mean we’re doing this for you, you know. How about at least a decent place to stay?”

 

Sometimes during this time of year it’s not unusual for us to have some bumps in our lives. Our “Road to Bethlehem” looks a lot different than Mary and Joseph’s, yet the the pressure to buy Christmas presents for others creates financial angst in our lives. There are also decorations to put up and parties to attend. And then there is the scheduling, figuring out how we are going to able to go visit relatives in such a way that nobody feels like they aren’t loved..

 

When I do premarital counseling with couples one of the things I strongly encourage them to do is to establish and publish a holiday schedule. I suggest that they have Thanksgiving day with one family, say the groom’s family, and then Christmas day with the other family, say the bride’s. And then I try to convince them to create a specific calendar for that on Google Calendar and then share that will all the family members involved. That way everyone knows when the couple will spend the holidays where and can see that everyone is treated equitably.

 

Our road to Bethlehem may not have the physical challenges but it does have challenges. All of the advertisements make it easy to fall into the sin of covetousness, wishing we had what others have or what we see advertised. Last year shoppers in the US racked up an average of $1,054 in debt during last year’s Christmas holiday.

 

The sin of gluttony also rears its head during this time of year. (Santa is big for a reason, you know.)

 

We sin in many other ways. When families get together personalities can sometimes clash. I think we all have a family member that loves to get into debates about politics during the holidays. Add alcohol to the mix and people can often say mean and hateful things they normally wouldn’t. The police will tell you that it’s not unusual for them to be called to homes during family gatherings when disagreements turn physical. Not exactly peace on earth and goodwill toward others.

 

Sometimes the obstacles in the road to Bethlehem may something other than sins. Grief is an example as we miss loved ones who have passed, and the season brings backs memories that are painful.

 

The season of Advent is about the journey to Bethlehem. Like the season of Lent, it is a season of preparation, of getting our hearts and souls ready for the event that changes everything: the birth of Jesus the Christ Child.

 

How are you preparing? As we travel the road to Bethlehem is there anything different about you, about your spiritual practices, about your faith life, that is different from how you normally are? Are you traveling to Bethlehem or just staying in the same place?

 

After all, this isn’t just a holiday special we are preparing for, is it? Christmas is when God puts on flesh and comes to earth in the form of a baby, a baby that will grow up to save the world through his sacrifice on the cross.

 

Unfortunately the true meaning of Christmas gets covered over by the commercial glitter and tinsel.

 

The world tells us to view Jesus like the character Ricky Bobby, the racecar driver in the movie, “Talladega Nights.” (Which is NOT a family friendly movie, by the way.)

 

“Dear Eight Pound, Six Ounce, Newborn Baby Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent. We’d just like to thank you for all the races ‘ve won and the $21.2 million, LOVE THAT MONEY! That I have accrued over this past season. Also due to a binding endorsement contract that stipulates I mention PowerAde at each grace, I just wanna say that PowerAde is delicious and it cools you off on a hot summer day and we look forward to Powerade’s release of mystic mountain blueberry. Thank you, for all your power and your grace, Dear Baby God, Amen.”

 

No. The road to Bethlehem is not a racetrack filled with who can go the fastest to purchase or receive the most presents. It is a slow, unpaved path with obstacles to overcome, keeping us humble and keeping our focus on the real reason for the season.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to take the correct road to Bethlehem. During this season of Advent as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus let us journey the ancient path that Mary and Joseph travelled, one of humble obedience. Let us repent of our sins and turn to the one who saves us from our sins. Let us focus on the Christ in Christmas.

 

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



Family Tree

Family Tree

A Message on Matthew 1:1-17

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Dec. 9, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Matthew 1:1-17  (NRSV)

 

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

 

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David.

 

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

 

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

 

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

 

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This scripture strikes fear into many pastors, including me. A lot of pastors just avoid it and don’t preach on it, which usually includes me. And the main reason it is avoided is not a theological one, but a simple one: there are so many hard-to-pronounce names included in it!

 

Nonetheless I have selected to explore it today because I think it gives us some important information that we need to know as Christians as we travel through the season of Advent in preparation for the birth of the Christ Child.

 

Musician Andrew Peterson completed the awesome challenge of including all the names listed in “Matthew’s Begots” into a song that’s really cute. I started to do it today but decided against it. But come to the worship service on Dec. 23 for our children’s program where a couple of our young folks will be singing it.

 

So why are they there? Those names matter. What Matthew does at the very beginning of his gospel is to give the genealogy of Jesus. He gives his family tree.

 

Now back in the first century they didn’t have “23AndMe” or “Ancestry DNA” testing kits to determine a person’s background. I have to tell you I’m sort of fascinated by those things but I haven’t shelled out the money to do one yet. I’m one of six kids and I think all of us are hoping one of us will spend the money to do it but we are all so cheap that none of us wants to be the one. Besides, I wonder about the reliability of those tests. I mean, they could just make that stuff up and who would know, right?

 

Some of my relatives on the Wintermute side researched our genealogy extensively. There’s actually a hard-bound two-volume set of books on it. And in going through it you can see that us Wintermutes pretty much married anyone who would have us. If we were dogs, we would be mutts.

 

Anyway, back to Jesus’ family tree. For the Jewish people genealogy was a big deal. There were no social service agencies to take care of the elderly, adult children did that. Property was passed down from generation to generation, and even businesses and occupations.

 

The first-born male was one who inherited most of the wealth and property and who became the head of the family. There is a fancy name for that: primogeniture. Unfortunately it was nearly always the male lineage that mattered, but what is impressive is that Matthew breaks that trend somewhat by naming some of the women in Jesus’ genealogy.

 

There are five women listed in Jesus’ genealogy: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.

 

Tamar was a very shrewd woman, seducing her father-in-law, Judah, after becoming widowed from two of Judah’s sons. Judah refused to give his third son, Shelah, to her so she does what she has to do to survive and seduces Judah anonymously. As a result she has twins, Perez and Zerah, and Perez is listed as the line belonging to Jesus.

 

Rahab is also listed. Remember that she was a prostitute living in Jericho who helps save the Israelite spies to come to spy out Jericho prior to invading it.

 

Ruth, as we remember, left her family and culture behind in Moab to go with her mother-in-law, Naomi, who had lost not only her husband but both sons as well. Ruth travels with Naomi back to Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem (coincidence?) and there is married to Boaz.

 

Bathsheba is not mentioned by name in Matthew’s “begats” but when it talks about Uriah’s wife, that is Bathsheba. Remember how King David saw her bathing and lost his mind with lust and had an affair with her. When she became pregnant David had her husband, Uriah, killed in battle so he could marry her. David and Bathsheba’s first baby died, but the two had another child, Solomon, who we know as wise King Solomon.

 

And then we come to Mary, mother of Jesus. We don’t know much about her. She was young, she was a virgin (or as I heard tale of one child who said she was “Virgil.”), and she was betrothed to Joseph but not yet married to him.

 

So the fact that Matthew mentions women at all is a large break from the social norms of the time. And those women weren’t the top-of-the-social-order women, either. Some had rather dubious reputations. (And when the Bible says Ruth uncovered Boaz’s feet… just know that is a euphemism. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.)

 

To me the fact that these women played integral roles in the family tree of Jesus, and the fact they are mentioned by Matthew, is proof to me that God doesn’t call the equipped, but equips the called.

 

Now Matthew is not the only gospel to contain Jesus’ genealogy. We also find it in Luke’s gospel, but it is listed after Jesus birth, not before. Another difference is that while Matthew lists Jesus’ lineage back to Abraham, Luke goes one step further and traces it all the way back to Adam.

 

I don’t believe it is an accident that the two gospels that tell us about Jesus birth also include his lineage.

 

While not as important, it still is important today. Our lineage tells us who and where we came from. It helps form our identity.

 

Growing up in Cooper, TX people would often say to me, “Oh, you’re one of those Wintermutes.” There were six of us kids, so we got around. The teachers in the school had a lot of us as students. My oldest sister was salutatorian of her class, my next oldest sister made straight As, and then I came along. I could tell that the teachers that had my sisters had expectations of me, expectations that unfortunately I didn’t live up to. It all worked out, though. Of the six of us all of us earned bachelor’s degrees and half of us earned graduate degrees. (I think I was the only one, however, of having the distinction of being on “Scholastic Probation” in college. Sigh.)

 

We have examples right here this church. What do you think of when you hear the name “Lykins.” If you are like me you think of super talented musicians, super smart people on a broad range of subjects, and some great followers of Christ.

 

How about when you hear the name “Hamilton.” (Not the musical, by the way.) I think of good, hard working successful business people who are humble and have hearts of gold.

 

There are so many other examples I could give.

 

Jesus lineage was important to Matthew and Luke because it helped prove that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the one that the prophets of old had prophesied about.  Isaiah 11:1 says “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”

 

In 2 Samuel 7:12 David is told, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.”

 

So there is a specific lineage that the messiah was to come from and both Luke and Matthew made sure to show that connection with the baby Jesus.

 

Now Matthew does something really interesting in the scripture we read today. As I said, lineages were tracked through the males. But if Jesus was not the biological son of Joseph, but of the Holy Spirit, how would that work?

 

Matthew does it this way: “Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.” He mentions Joseph not as the father of Jesus, but as the husband of Mary. Now Joseph had the important lineage required of the Messiah, but it was important to Matthew that Joseph not be confused as the father of Jesus. Thus he lists him as the husband of Mary, not the father of Jesus. That way Jesus can have the genealogy of Joseph but still have the Holy Spirit as his father.

 

So how does this affect us as followers of Christ in the 21st Century?

 

I think it reminds us that while knowing our lineage is okay, our true lineage resides in our faith, not our biology. As followers of Christ we are children of God.

 

Paul writes in Romans 8:14, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” He goes on to say in verse 17, “…and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

 

So my challenge to you this second Sunday of Advent is to remember that Jesus is our brother. While our lineage does inform us as to where we come from and who our relatives are, it is our faith in Jesus Christ as our savior that makes him our brother. It is through his death and resurrection that we have been reconciled to God, a royal lineage we could never attain on our own.

 

And if you could talk one of my siblings into doing one of those DNA heritage tests I would really appreciate it.

 

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



Wesleyan Roots: “The New Birth”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The New Birth” #45

A Message on John 3:1-21

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Nov. 25, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

John 3:1-21 NRSV)

 

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

 

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

 

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

 

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

 

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There is a comedian out in YouTube land, and other places, that goes by the name of Michael Jr. That’s it, no last name, just Michael Jr.

 

The thing I like about him is that he is a clean comedian. There is no cussing, no nastiness, just good ol’ funny things. He is so clean that he performs in churches a lot.

 

And he talks about being in church. He tells about when he was a young boy how his grandmother used to take him to church. He remembers getting in trouble one time. An older woman was getting into the service and jumping around and suddenly her wig fell off. He thought it was one of the funniest things he had ever seen so he started laughing. His grandma reached over and pinched him, and then twisted. He said “I can understand the pinch, but the twist? That’s the devil.”

 

I was watching him on YouTube this past week and he was talking about babies. He said, “My wife and I have a new baby. Yeah, we have a new baby because that’s the way they come, is new.”

 

He said they had gotten to the point where the baby was sleeping through the night, and he was so glad because “I was so tired of getting up at like three in the morning… to wake up my wife.”

 

Life changes when babies are born, doesn’t it. I remember my dad giving me some advice when Pam was expecting Sarah, our first born. He said, “Sleep as much as you can now, because you will never be this rested again the rest of your life.”

 

New births change lives.

 

I have a friend that I think I have mentioned to you before. Her name is Beth Bethard and she worked in the main office at Perkins School of Theology when I was going there to seminary. Beth developed a heart condition that worsened, threatening her life. Eventually she was hospitalized and things didn’t look good.

 

Then, on Nov. 8, 2008, she woke up in the cardiac ICU unit at Medical Center, Dallas, with a new heart. This is how she put it in a Facebook post earlier this month. “By the grace of God, exceptional medical professionals, and the gift of life from my heart donor, Catherine, I am alive and doing exceptionally well. Grateful for life and family, for health, for every breath I take. Thank you God. And thank you Catherine’s family…for my second chance at life. I love you and my prayers are with you today.”

 

Beth considers Nov. 8 to be her second birthday.  She buys flowers and puts them on the altar at her church on the Sunday closest to Nov. 8 every year to honor her heart donor and celebrate her new life, her second birthday.

 

Our own Paula Travis knows how Beth feels, as she is also the recipient of a heart transplant.

 

While they may celebrate more than one birthday, the “second” birthday they celebrate is metaphorical, not literal. But it is just as important.

 

In the scripture we read today we find one of the Jewish religious leaders, Nicodemus, coming to Jesus at night (he was too scared to go see him during the day), intrigued by what Jesus was teaching. Jesus tells him “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

 

Now Nicodemus (Tony Evans calls him “Nicky”) had trouble following Jesus metaphorical language and took his words literally, asking how a person can be born again once they have been born.

 

Jesus is not talking about a literal birth, of course, but a metaphorical one, a spiritual one. A new birth by water and the spirit.

 

When we baptize someone in the United Methodist Church we do so with… can you guess it?… water and the spirit. We place the water over the head (or pour, or immerse) and say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

 

But it doesn’t end there. I then hold a hand on their head (or make the sign of the cross with the water on their forehead) and say, “The Holy Spirit work within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

 

Water and the spirit. It comes from Jesus being baptized with water, and then, when coming up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove. Water, and then the spirit.

 

But it also is symbolic of the birth process.  As a baby is being formed in a mother’s womb it is surrounded by what is called amniotic fluid. It protects the baby and does some other stuff that I have forgotten. When a woman’s “water breaks” before birth is it the amniotic fluid.

 

And the Holy Spirit is referred to in the Bible in terms that mean wind or breath. The Greek word is “Pneuma.” So when that baby is born and takes that first breath, it is like the breath that God breathed into Adam, like the “tongues as of fire” that appear above the apostle’s heads at Pentecost.

 

So both water and spirit are involved in the birth of babies, and are also involved in being “born again.”

 

Wesley recognized the connections between a physical birth and a metaphorical spiritual birth. Here’s what he said:

 

“Before a child is born into the world he has eyes, but sees not; he has ears, but does not hear. He has a very imperfect use of any other sense. He has no knowledge of any of the things of the world, or any natural understanding. To that manner of existence which he then has, we do not even give the name of life. It is then only when a man is born, that we say he begins to live. For as soon as he is born, be begins to see the light, and the various objects with which he is encompassed. His ears are then opened, and he hears the sounds which successively strike upon them. At the same time, all the other organs of sense begin to be exercised upon their proper objects. He likewise breathes, and lives in a manner wholly different from what he did before. How exactly doth the parallel hold in all these instances!”

 

Now let’s talk terminology. It is from this scripture in John that we get the phrase  “born again.” It’s not so much in use now but just a few years back people used the term “born-again Christian” quite a bit.

 

Now if you ask me that term is a bit redundant. If you are a Christian then you are reborn.

 

The term is nothing new, though. It was even used in the 1700s when John Wesley was around.

 

In his sermon on “The New Birth,” Wesley talks about the term “born again” and gives us a bit of a history lesson.

 

“The expression, ‘being born again,’ was not first used by our Lord in his conversation with Nicodemus: It was well known before that time, and was in common use among the Jews when our Saviour appeared among them. When an adult Heathen was convinced that the Jewish religion was of God, and desired to join therein, it was the custom to baptize him first, before he was admitted to circumcision. And when he was baptized, he was said to be born again; by which they meant, that he who was before a child of the devil was now adopted into the family of God, and accounted one of his children.”

 

So, Nicodemus, being a Jewish religious leader, should have known this, and should have been familiar with the “born again” concept. So, was Nicodemus asking the question about being born again because he really didn’t understand it, or… did he know, but asked the question to push Jesus on the topic?

 

Hmmmmmm.

 

Wesley summarizes the new birth toward the end of his sermon. “In a word, it is that change whereby the earthly, sensual, devilish mind is turned into the ‘mind which was in Christ Jesus.’ This is the nature of the new birth: ‘So is every one that is born of the Spirit.’”

 

So how should being born again affect the way we live our lives today?

 

Back in the 1700s Wesley saw a connection between being born again and, of all things, happiness. Yes, happiness. He said, “For the same reason, except he be born again, none can be happy even in this world. For it is not possible, in the nature of things, that a man should be happy who is not holy.”

 

I find that very intriguing. There are a lot of self-help books on the market today on how to achieve happiness. Some of them I find to be nothing but bad psychology. But as I have said before, I think Blaise Pascal hit the nail on the head by saying that there is a God-shaped hole within each of us. When we try to fill that void with material possessions of this world, with wealth, with vanity, with popularity, or any of those things, we won’t find happiness and contentment. Those things won’t fit in that God-shaped hole. Only Jesus does. New birth does, indeed, bring happiness.

 

It is only by surrendering ourselves at the foot of the cross that we find purpose, find meaning, and find, ironically, freedom.

 

Paul expresses the new birth in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

 

So my challenge to you this week is to live into your new birth. Whether you were “born again” this past year or 80 years ago, live as a new creation. Live a changed life. Live a life filled with love of God and love of others.

 

Like a baby, live out your new birth. Because that’s how they come is new.

 

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

 

Wesleyan Roots: “Scriptural Christianity”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “Scriptural Christianity” #4

A Message on Acts 4:23-31

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Nov. 11, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Acts 4:23-31 (NRSV)

 

After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, 25 it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:

 

‘Why did the Gentiles rage,

   and the peoples imagine vain things?

26 The kings of the earth took their stand,

   and the rulers have gathered together

       against the Lord and against his Messiah.’

 

27 For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

 

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Today I want to start off by telling you about a young man who grew up in California as the oldest of three sons. He loved his family and he loved football. He was good at football, real good, and he led his high school to a championship. He started looking at colleges and secured the last remaining scholarship to Arizona State University in 1994.

 

This young man excelled as an outside linebacker and during his junior year helped the team go undefeated. He was good in the classroom as well, completing a degree in marketing in three-and-a-half years with a 3.85 GPA.

 

After graduation the young man was drafted in the 1998 NFL and was selected by the Arizona Cardinals. In the NFL he moved over to the position of safety and was very successful. He even turned down a 5-year, $9 million offer from the St. Louis Rams simply out of devotion to the Cardinals.

 

In May of 2002, eight months after the 9-11 attacks, this young man turned down a $3.6 million contract offer from the Cardinals and instead enlisted in the U.S. Army, trading the cleats of a football player for the boots of a soldier. His younger brother gave up a professional baseball contract and enlisted with him.

 

The young man saw combat in the first invasion of Iraq. After that he entered Ranger school and graduated as an Army Ranger in November 2003.

 

He was deployed to Afghanistan and, on April 22, 2004, was killed. Initially it was reported that he was killed by enemy combatants but later it became known that he had been killed by “friendly fire,” gunfire from our own forces.

 

The young man’s name, if you haven’t guessed it by now, was Pat Tillman. It was a sad situation. Tillman is considered a hero and was awarded many military medals after his death for his service. He made many sacrifices to serve his country.

 

I bring that up today because today is Nov. 11, what is known as the traditional Veterans Day. It was first known as Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I. It’s easy to remember because the armistice was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, exactly 100 years ago today. (The year was not 1911, but 1918.)

 

In 1947, after World War II, it became Veterans Day, a national holiday to honor all those who have served in the military. It’s common to confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day but the two are different. Memorial day honors the memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in military service. Veterans Day honors all of those who have served in the armed forces.

 

Now I have a lot of preacher friends that believe Veterans Day to be a secular holiday and that it shouldn’t be recognized in a worship service. Obviously, I don’t believe that. And the reason I don’t is that I believe there are some strong parallels between the willingness as a soldier to put oneself in harm’s way for others and the call we have as Christians to sacrifice our lives for others.

 

In the scripture we read from the book of Acts we find Peter and John rejoining the disciples after being in prison. The Jewish religious leaders had become exceedingly upset with Peter and John for saying that the people they were healing were being done in the name of Jesus Christ and that Jesus offered resurrection to those who believed.

 

The religious leaders were frustrated, but the disciples had developed such a large following, about 5,000 people!, that the leaders were kind of intimidated. Plus, they didn’t really have any charges that they could bring against them. After all, it wasn’t illegal to heal people.

 

So after Peter and John had been held in jail overnight, the religious leaders called them in and chided them, telling them to cut it out and don’t be talking about this Jesus business anymore. Now you would think that Peter and John would say, “Okay,” and then go out and be a little bit quieter about Jesus.

 

But no. With incredible boldness they told the religious leaders that they couldn’t do that, and even got a little snarky with them. “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

 

So the religious leaders release them, reluctantly, and Peter and John rejoin the disciples. That’s where we pick up the scripture that we read today.

 

The disciples went boldly before the religious authorities, people who had political power over them, and they didn’t cow-down before them.

 

In a way they were like soldiers, but soldiers of love instead of soldiers of war. Their Commander in Chief was Jesus Christ and their orders were given in the Great Commission: go and make disciples.

 

In his sermon “Scriptural Christianity,” John Wesley talked about how during its early years the Christian movement took off and spread, even though those early Christians were persecuted and many gave their lives.

 

“They ‘approved themselves the servants of God, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours; in perils in the sea, in perils in the wilderness, in weariness and painfulness, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness’ (2 Cor. 6:4ff.). And when, having fought the good fight, they were led as sheep to the slaughter, and offered up on the sacrifice and service of their faith, then the blood of each found a voice, and the heathen owned, ‘He being dead, yet speaketh.’”

 

Listen to how many military terms Wesley uses in that last sentence: “fought the good fight,” “sheep to the slaughter,” “sacrifice,” “service,” and “blood.” Even though Wesley was not a military man, he uses those terms to describe the early Christians.

 

In reading his sermon in terms of today’s world, I think it’s good for us to reflect on how we, as Christians, are willing to live out the great commission. Are we fighting the good fight, are we willing to give our give our lives as “sheep to the slaughter” if necessary so that others may come to know Jesus as their savior? What kind of sacrifice are we making? What acts of service are we willing to do? And, heaven forbid, are we willing to shed our blood if necessary so that others may come to understanding the power of the blood in Jesus?

 

And are we willing to pray what Peter and John prayed in the scripture we read today from Acts? “And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

 

To often we are passive Christians, which should be an oxymoron, or a phrase that contradicts itself. We are afraid to speak boldly about Jesus Christ because it isn’t politically correct. Someone might get upset with us. We might hurt someone feelings.  So we sit, quietly, the “frozen chosen,” while so many in the world around us live their lives without a savior. “Someone else will do it,” we say. “I’m not good at talking to people.” “I don’t know what to say.” “It makes me uncomfortable.”

 

Any veteran of the armed forces will tell you that being a soldier means doing what is uncomfortable, doing what is necessary for the success of the mission. As Christians, we are called by Jesus Christ to do things that are uncomfortable, to do what is necessary–in love, of course–for the success of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are to go and make disciples.

 

So my challenge for you today, in recognition of Veterans Day, is to be a soldier for Christ. Be willing to follow Jesus, our Commander in Chief, whose orders are to go and make disciples. Be willing to make sacrifices in service to others, speaking boldly like the disciples and facing challenges without fear.

 

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

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Trouble and Rest of All Men”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Trouble and Rest of Good Men” #127

A Message on Job 3:17-19

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Nov. 4, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Job 3:17-19 (NRSV)

 

There the wicked cease from troubling,

   and there the weary are at rest.

There the prisoners are at ease together;

   they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.

The small and the great are there,

   and the slaves are free from their masters.

 

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The book of Job is one of the more unusual books in the Bible. In it we find God almost wagering with the devil, allowing bad things to happen to Job in order to prove a couple of points.

 

There’s more to it, though. It is a very deep and theologically complex book dealing with suffering and faith.

 

Here’s the beginning of the story. Job is an upright, honest, and righteous man. He has many blessings: wealth, children, livestock, etc. Then the devil shows up and begins a conversation with God and says that the only reason Job is righteous is because God protects all of his property and his family. Take away that protection and Job will curse God.

 

So God takes all that protection away from Job and Satan goes to work. All Job’s children are killed. All his livestock are stolen or killed. Everything goes bad for Job, but Job takes it all in stride, lamenting but saying “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” He doesn’t curse God.

 

So the Devil returns for phase two. He tells God that if he takes away Job’s health that Job will turn against God and curse him. So God allows it and Job gets afflicted with all kinds of physical problems. Job actually sits in a pile of ashes and scrapes at the sores on his skin with broken pieces of pottery. Even his wife tells him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” (Gee, thanks honey…)

 

Then Job’s friends show up and are shocked by the shape he is in. They just sit with him for seven days.

 

Job is suffering so badly that he wishes he had never been born. He wishes he wasn’t alive. He is doing some serious lamenting.

 

And that’s where we find the scripture we read today. Here is The Message paraphrase of it:

 

Where the wicked no longer trouble anyone

   and bone-weary people get a long-deserved rest?

Prisoners sleep undisturbed,

   never again to wake up to the bark of the guards.

The small and the great are equals in that place,

   and slaves are free from their masters.

 

Job is talking about heaven. In his suffering he is looking ahead to something better that will come along.

 

Now this is significant because the concept of heaven and hell didn’t really exist among the Jewish people of Job’s time. Their philosophy and theology was pretty much “when you’re dead, you’re dead.” That’s why children were so important. It was their one link with immortality.

 

So for Job to be saying this is unusual to say the least.

 

We learn a lot more about heaven and hell in the New Testament. In the book of Revelation John gives us metaphors to describe heaven as a beautiful, awesome, perfect place. That’s where we get the “streets of gold” and “pearly gates” images.

 

As Christians we can take comfort in knowing heaven exists, especially when our loved ones die. I experienced that consolation this past February when my dad died. His last few days were not pleasant at all. I watched his condition deteriorate and I was there when his breathing got more and more shallow and then he took his last breath.

 

I knew my dad didn’t want to live in the condition he was in. Being a physician it was something he had experienced with his patients, and because of that it was something he feared. He didn’t fear death, but he did fear dying. I think that is just part of human nature.

 

But as Christians we have hope because we know that no matter how much we suffer, no matter how much our health deteriorates death is not the end. Jesus death and resurrection gives us the promise that we also, will be resurrected. Death doesn’t win. God does.

 

As that old hymn says, “The world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.”

 

John Wesley talked about this in his sermon “The Trouble and Rest of Good Men.” The “trouble” he speaks of is the trouble we have here in this world. The “rest” is the rest we will receive in heaven.

 

Here is how he describes heaven: “There then ‘the weary be at rest.’ The blood of the Lamb hath healed all their sickness, hath washed them throughly from their wickedness, and cleansed them from their sin. The disease of their nature is cured; they are at length made whole; they are restored to perfect soundness.”

 

Today is All Saints Sunday, the day every year that we stop to remember those who have died since the last All Saints Sunday. Earlier we rang a bell as each name was read. We mourn, because those beloved ones are no longer with us, but we also are comforted by knowing that because they believed in Jesus Christ as their savior they are in a place so great and wonderful our minds aren’t capable of imagining it.

 

And we can take comfort in knowing that heaven awaits us as well. Like Job we long for a place where “the wicked cease from troubling,

   and there the weary are at rest.

There the prisoners are at ease together;

   they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.

The small and the great are there,

   and the slaves are free from their masters.”

 

The Lord’s Supper, partaking of the bread and wine in recalling Jesus sacrifice for us, reminds us that heaven awaits as well. As Paul says in Romans 6:3-5, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

 

So my challenge to you this week is to remember the saints, those who have gone before us, and remember that one day that those of us who believe will also be saints as well. Knowing that gives us courage for today and hope for tomorrow.

 

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

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Good Steward”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Good Steward”

A Message on 2 Corinthians 9:6-7

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

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (NRSV)

 

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

 

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Today is Commitment Sunday, the one Sunday a year that we ask you as congregation members to make a pledge of your financial commitment to this church for the coming year. It’s the Sunday we ask you to turn in your “Pledge Cards” so that we can create a budget for the operation of the church for the 2019 year.

 

But I want to start out today by talking about something that happened this past Monday. It didn’t make the news much and I only found out about it through some posts on Facebook, but the Rev. Eugene Peterson died Monday at the age of 85.

 

Peterson is up near the top of my list of theological heroes. I have read many of his books (but not all 35 plus of them that he wrote). His writing has challenged me while at the same time comforted me. In his autobiography, The Pastor, I have found good, sound advice as I navigate my role as a pastor. I often turn to his paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, while working on my sermons. And as you know, I often include those paraphrases in my sermons.

 

My favorite story about Peterson comes from a video he did years ago with Dean Nelson at Point Loma Nazarene University. (https://youtu.be/FaaIui7cESs)

 

In the interview Nelson asks Peterson if it is true that he (Peterson) turned down the opportunity to “hang out” with Bono, the lead singer for the Irish rock band U2, when they were on tour in the states. It seems that Bono is a big fan of Eugene Peterson and his writings.

 

Peterson confirms that indeed, it was true. The reason for turning it down? “I was pushing a deadline on The Message. I was finishing up the Old Testament at the time… I really couldn’t do it.”

 

Nelson responded by saying, “You may be the only person alive who would turn down the opportunity just to make a deadline. I mean, come on, it’s Bono for crying out loud!”

 

Peterson, without missing a beat and matching Nelson’s enthusiasm, replied, “Dean, it was Isaiah!” [Article: https://bibleandmission.org.uk/2011/07/11/isaiah-eugene-peterson-and-turning-down-bono/]

 

Knowing that I was going to be talking about money today, I was curious about Peterson’s take on the subject. I found an article written by Daniel Grothe, a friend of Peterson and his wife, Jan. In the article Grothe points out something that I had never thought about: Peterson must have made a lot of money with his books.

 

Peterson grew up in a modest home during the great depression in a small town in Montana. He became a religion professor and a Presbyterian pastor, founding a small church in Bel Air, Maryland, and served that same congregation and wrote books.

 

He never served a megachurch. He never asked his congregation to buy him a new airplane. For most of his life he and his wife lived simply, existing paycheck to paycheck. Then his books started to sell. And boy, did they ever. The Message alone has sold more than 17 million copies.

 

After retirement he and his wife moved back to Montana to the small house that as a kid he helped his dad build on weekends. It was a small, wood-framed cabin up in the mountains, certainly not luxurious.

 

Here’s how Grothe describes the Petersons: “There is not an ostentatious bone in their bodies. These are people who have turned down opportunity after opportunity in order to preserve a life of simplicity and quiet faithfulness. A long obedience in the same direction. I have long said that it only took Eugene Peterson 65 years to become an overnight success, and the success came when he had gotten over his need to be successful. God must have known he could trust this old couple with that kind of money, that kind of acclaim.”

 

It turns out that the Petersons followed John Wesley’s advice that we talked about last week: Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Grothe says that the Petersons provided the funds for scores of students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees, paying for the entire cost of seminary out of their pockets.

 

Grothe finishes the article with this: “Of all that I have learned from Eugene and Jan Peterson over the years, maybe that’s the thing that will stick with me the most: that true life is found as we become like Jesus, as we spend our lives giving it all away.” [https://relevantmagazine.com/article/the-hidden-legacy-of-eugene-peterson/]

 

Michael W. Smith recorded a song years ago titled, “Give It Away.”  One of the verses and lyrics is:

 

We can entertain compassion

For a world in need of care

But the road of good intentions

Doesn’t lead to anywhere

‘Cause love isn’t love

Till you give it away, yeah

You gotta give it away

 

As we live

Moving side by side

May we learn to give

(May we learn to give)

Learn to sacrifice

 

For this stewardship month of October we have provided copies of the book, Giving It All Away and Getting It Back Again: The Way of Living Generously  by David Green and Bill High.

 

At the end of the book, the authors provide this summary of the basic ideas of the book:

 

  • We are not owners of anything. God owns everything.
  • God wants us to be good stewards of everything he’s put into our hands.
  • We all have weath–our intellectual capital, our social capital, our emotional capital, our spiritual capital, and our financial capital.
  • Stewardship produces responsibility: as stewards, we need to be found faithful.
  • The great joy of stewardship is generosity: giving it away because we get it all back again in the form of joy.

 

John Wesley certainly practiced those principles.  In his sermon #51, “The Good Steward,” he says, “Once more: in what manner didst thou employ that comprehensive talent, money? — not in gratifying the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life; not squandering it away in vain expenses — the same as throwing it into the sea; not hoarding it up to leave behind thee — the same as burying it in the earth…”

 

He goes on later to ask, “Wast thou accordingly a general benefactor to mankind? Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the sick, assisting the stranger, relieving the afflicted, according to their various necessities? Wast thou eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame, a father to the fatherless, and an husband to the widow? And didst thou labour to improve all outward works of mercy, as means of saving souls from death?”

 

Now I am not going to preach to you what is known as the “Prosperity Gospel.” You know what I’m talking about, don’t you, the idea that the more money you give to God the more money you will have?

 

God is not an investment machine where you put money in and expect to get more money back. To me that is faulty theology. We give to God and in return receive things that are more heavenly than worldly: the grace in giving, the sacrificial aspect of giving, the return of a portion of our blessings God has given us, doing so as praise and thanksgiving. The simple joy of giving.

 

Remember just how much Jesus gave. He gave and gave and gave and gave. And he gave his life on the cross, the most perfect form of giving ever.

 

In a moment I am going to ask you to come down to the altar rail and place your pledge card in the baskets sitting there. If you didn’t bring your pledge card from home raise your hand and the ushers will bring you one.

 

But first I want to tell you about something that happened here at the church this morning. George Griffin is always the first one to the church on Sunday mornings. He volunteers to open the church up and unlock the doors. This morning he was standing at the table where the donuts are cutting the top off of the donut boxes when he passed out. He fell down, hitting the back of his head on the floor, and slightly cutting two fingers on his left hand.

 

I was standing nearby when it happened. Abby Lykins was standing next to George and helped ease his fall. The box of donuts went all over George and the floor.

 

Abby goes and calls 911 while I kneeled beside George. He comes to pretty quick, knows where he is and what’s going on.

 

While we are waiting for the ambulance, George says “Wait a minute, I need to give you something.” He reaches into his coat pocket and hands me his pledge card that he had filled out.

 

Folks, if a 90-plus-year-old gentleman laying on the floor waiting on an ambulance to take him to the hospital can still turn in his pledge card, then our excuses look pretty pale, don’t they?

 

As you contemplate your giving for the coming year I am going to leave you with the scripture we read today from 2 Corinthians, but this is the way that Eugene Peterson, a humble saint who believed in and practiced “giving it away,” paraphrases that scripture:

 

“Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.”

 

So my challenge to you this week is to be a good steward! Sow bountifully! Give with a joyful heart. Remember that “God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.”

 

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