Meeting Jesus: Saul

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

Acts 9:1-20 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uh-oh. Snap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a lot better than munching on milkweed.

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

Meeting Jesus: Barnabus

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting Jesus: The Syrophoenician Woman


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

Mark 7:24-30 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch! Tou·ché!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Meeting Jesus: Nicodemus


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

John 3:1-17 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh, I’m not designing a building.”

“Aren’t you an architect?”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting Jesus: The Man Born Blind


Meeting Jesus: The Man Blind from Birth
A Message on John 9:1-12
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 28, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

John 9:1-12 (NRSV)

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

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Today we continue our sermon series “Meeting Jesus,” about people whose lives were changed by meeting Jesus, by looking at a scripture from the gospel of John about Jesus healing a man who had been blind from birth.

It’s an unusual scripture and unique in a couple of ways. The Bible tells us Jesus heals quite a few people who were blind, but to my knowledge (and I reserve the right to be wrong) this is the only instance where we are told that the person was born blind.

Now the reason for this becomes evident when we look at the overall message that Jesus is making in the scripture we read today.

One of the beliefs that was common back then was that if a baby was born with some sort of deformity or mental or physical challenge, then the parents must have sinned and this was God’s way of punishing them.

Now we don’t believe that today, and indeed it is not true at all, but back then it was a different story. So if a baby was born blind, for example, then the parents must have committed some horrible sin.

Part of the reasoning for that thought pattern came from the scriptures. For example, in Exodus 20 we find this scripture:

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” –Exodus 20:5-6

Now that sounds pretty harsh, and with a quick reading of that you could see why people might think that if a baby is born blind that the parents must have sinned.

But let’s back up and read the sentence before that. “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

That’s one of the 10 commandments. Number two, as a matter of fact. It’s about idol worship. So if you read it in that context, you can see that when it says, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them,” it’s talking about idols.

Ironically there are other scriptures in the Old Testament that deal with children being punished because of the sins of the parents, and these paint a different picture.

For example: “Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death.” — Deuteronomy 24:16

Or how about this one: “The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own.” — Ezekiel 18:20

As humans there is a dark part of us that somehow revels in the suffering of others. That’s why we slow down to rubberneck when we pass by an auto accident. That’s why murders, riots, and scandals make the news headlines. And that’s why some people enjoy watching The Bachelorette. (Okay, maybe not that last one.)

Deep down a part of us likes to feel like we’re better than others, that when others fall it somehow lifts us up higher. When others sin, we feel more superior than the sinners. (Even though we are also sinners.)

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”


Have you ever been going through something difficult in you life and wondered if it was a punishment from God for something you did?

I know I have. I still do, sometimes. We even go so far as to blame God for what is happening. We think that God caused our struggle in order to teach us some sort of lesson or to punish us for some sin we committed.

But is that true? Does God cause bad things to happen? Did God cause the man in the scripture we read today to be blind from birth?

The answer is no.

God doesn’t cause bad things to happen. Now he has the power, there’s no doubt about that. God has the power and the ability to do anything and everything. We should always remember that.

But God doesn’t cause bad things to happen. He just doesn’t.

In 1 John we read, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” — 1 John 1:5

And in James we read, “No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.” — James 1:13

Even in the book of Job we see that God does not cause the bad things that happen to Job. He allows it to happen, but he doesn’t cause it. Satan does.

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

Max Lucado, in his book It’s Not About Me: Rescue From the Life We Thought Would Make Us Happy (which is a great book) shares a story of a friend of his who was in the hospital battling cancer. His friends told him he needed more faith to be healed. Max told him this:

“‘It’s not about you… Your hospital room is a showcase for your Maker. Your faith in the face of suffering cranks up the volume of God’s song.’ …Seeing his sickness in the scope of God’s sovereign plan gave his condition a sense of dignity. He accepted his cancer as an assignment from heaven: a missionary to the cancer ward. A week later I saw him again. ‘I reflected God,’ he said, smiling through a thin face, ‘to the nurses, the doctors, my friends. Who knows who needed to see God, but I did my best to make him seen.’

Psalm 50:15 tells us about the glorification of\ God as well: “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

Like the blind man, we are to glorify God through our suffering.

Another thing I think is important to remember about today’s scripture of Jesus healing a man blind from birth: the man had to do something to receive the miracle.

Jesus tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. Now this was a freshwater pool that was semi-retangular in shape and about 225 feet wide. The water came from the Gihon spring via an underground aqueduct system created to bring water to it. It was the closest pool to the Temple.

But the coolest thing about this public pool is it’s name. The scriptures tell us Siloam it means “sent.” Jesus “sent” the blind man to the pool called “Sent.” Jesus is “sent” by God, and as his disciples we are “sent” out into the world to make disciples.

The blind man was sent on a mission: go wash in the pool. He had to do something in order to complete the miracle and glorify God. It required action on his part.

Another interesting thing about the scripture today. Why in the world did Jesus use spit to make mud? Why not just a little water?

The theories are all over the place. One I read theorized that Jesus did so as a representation of “spitting in the eye” of the religious leaders who wanted to kill him. Hmmmm. I don’t know about that.

Others say that spit was considered by the Jewish culture considered spit to have healing properties.

One time Pam and I went on vacation and Pam got stung several times by a red wasp. I had an old, small tin of Garrett snuff that I kept in the pickup truck for just such emergencies. I put some of that powdered snuff in my hand, bent over it and spit. And snuff went all over the place! I choked and coughed and sputtered and wiped my eyes. (By the way, I eventually got the task done and it did help Pam’s stings.)

While the healing properties of spit is a popular theory for why Jesus used it to make mud to heal the blind man, I kind of question it. I read an interesting article that was based on a thesis written in 1999 by Sarah Bourgeois that pretty much blows this theory clear out of the water, pointing out that it was NOT a first century belief that saliva had healing properties. The evidence this article gives is pretty convincing. I’ll put the link in the sermon on Facebook and on our web site so you can peruse it at your leisure. [

I have my own theory. I believe it has to do more with the saliva being a metaphor.

In Matthew 4:4 when Jesus is being tempted in the desert by Satan and Satan encourages a starving Jesus to turn rocks into bread, Jesus replies with a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

The third chapter of James utilizes the tongue as a metaphor for how powerful our speech is, that if we can control our speech then we can control our actions.

In Matthew 15 we read where Jesus points out that holiness is more about what we say than what foods we eat, saying, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. — Matthew 15: 17-18 (NIV)

And of course in Revelation the Son of Man is described like this: “…coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword.” — Revelation 1:16

I think that Jesus’ words contain all the healing the world needs.

Regardless of the literal or figurative meaning of the spittle in the scripture from John’s gospel, we do know that Jesus performed a miracle and that a man who had never been able to see was healed and was given his sight.

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

First I think is that God works in unusual ways. There is an old poem that says God works in mysterious ways. (No, that’s not scripture.) God does indeed work in mysterious ways, in ways that we are not creative enough to come up with and which our minds may have trouble comprehending. What human could would have thought to bring life to all humankind through the death of one innocent person/God?

We need to trust in God because he knows what he is doing. Now that’s hard for us to do because we want to know and understand everything. We want the details. We want to know ahead of time how things are going to work out. Instead, we need to, as the old hymn says, “trust and obey.” Trust God, especially in those difficult times. He’s got this. And he doesn’t cause bad things to happen. Ever.

Another thing I think we can learn is that what comes out of Jesus’ mouth is pretty important. Now I’m not talking about saliva, but his words. It is a double edged sword at times, but it is holy and we should treat it as such.

Another thing I think we can apply to our lives is that just as the blind man we are sent. Following Christ is about reaching others. John Wesley once said that “You have one business on earth–to save souls.” In loving God it is a requirement that we love others. It’s not an option. Christianity is not about securing our own salvation and then selfishly ignoring everyone else. It’s about being so filled with love that we can’t help but share it with others, so that others can come to know the peace and comfort we have. As Max Lucado’s book points out, “It’s not about me.”

So my challenge to you this week is threefold: 1. Trust in God. 2. Trust the Bible (and READ the Bible). 3. Share with others what God has done in your life.

This world can blind us to the truth. Thankfully Jesus can restore our vision.

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


This message was written and preached by Andrew Thompson, a participant in the Texas Annual Conference’s College Pastoral Intern Project (CPIP). Andrew will be starting his senior year this fall at Abilene Christian University and is discerning a call to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. He has served here at Jacksonville First United Methodist Church this summer and has been working hard experiencing the many facets of ministry. He is a great young man!


Meeting Jesus: The Bleeding Woman
A message on Luke 8:43-48
By Andrew Thompson, CPIP Intern
Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 21, 2019

Luke 8:43-48
43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”

46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

Good morning!!! Isn’t it so great to be here in the presence of our Lord!?!! Today I have the pleasure of speaking to you on the First United Methodist Church’s birthday. Aren’t we so blessed with the opportunity to praise and worship God together in this holy place!!?!

Another thing that is so great about our time here is that we all get to gather here, coming from different backgrounds and circumstances, praising God, all on the same grounds.

However one mistake we often make is believing that ‘the places where we come from’ makes us unworthy to be in the presence of God. It’s easy to think that our personal holiness can make us more or less worthy in approaching God. However, that’s not really the case. We know that when Jesus died on the cross He made it possible for all to receive God’s salvation, no matter how spiritually dirty you might initially feel. God saves all. That’s something that most of us know.

But for the sake of our story, I’d like to encourage you, to have a blank mind. Try to imagine yourself watching this miracle unfold. Imagine that Jesus has not yet died on the cross for all people.

When we read from the Old Testament, we see that cleanliness was very much a topic of concern for the Israelites. They very closely associated physical health and spiritual health. For them, they were nearly one in the same. If one was physically ill everyone else would assume that they had spiritual problems going on in their lives as well.

When I was in 5th grade I went to a summer camp in the hill country called “Camp Stewart.” And at this camp there was a policy saying that, in order for you to enter the mess hall you must have a shirt and shoes on. They were not going to have shirtless boys come in all dirty to the hall because it was just disrespectful to the cooks and those that cleaned the mess hall. One day I lost my shirt at the waterfront and when I tried to go to lunch right after they turned me down at the door because I wasn’t presentable. I had to hike (what felt like a half mile) back to the cabin, grab a shirt and walk all the way back. And when I got back to the mess hall everyone had finished eating and I missed out.

It’s kind of the same way for the ancient Israel. It was important and respectful to keep yourself clean when coming into the presence of God or others. There were laws you had to follow, and if you can’t follow these laws (just like how the woman could not stop her bleeding) you were out of luck and were kept on the outside. It was very important to keep themselves clean, holy, and worthy in before coming to God.

This all sets the stage for our passage. The laws in Leviticus mandated that the sick woman be set apart from the rest of the people because she was seen as being physically and spiritually tainted. It would have been bad for her to “contaminate” those things that are clean.

We have all heard the term “outcaste” before, right? The origin of that word comes from Hindu culture. It referrers to a class of people who are the lowest of the low. The outcasted people, in early hindu society, held the super nasty and unclean jobs. They were mud hut builders, pig farmers, they even practiced ritually unclean practices. The term outcaste means “untouchable” or “one who should not be touched.”

That is exactly what we are dealing with here in our story. The woman was deemed as “one who should not be touched.” She was looked down upon and stigmatized by everyone. It was the law that was telling her that she should not touch anything and that everyone should stay clear of her. The law even told the community to stay clear of her shadow because that might contaminate them too. It’s also likely that she was told that she wasn’t clean enough to worship God in the synagogues with everyone else. Do you know what that tells the woman?? The law communicated that she wasn’t even worthy enough to go and fulfill her role as a Jew woman by worshiping God. That is what is so tragic about her situation.

Fortunately, we know that when Christ died on the cross that the curtain in the temple was torn in two, meaning that nothing in this world should obstruct us from praising God. Not even our own spiritual cleanliness can get in the way of that if we believe in the resurrected king.

Romans 8:38-39 says,

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Moving on, after the woman was sick for a looooong 12 years she still had not found a doctor who was able to heal her. 12 years! That is a really long time, right? We should also be reminded that 12 is a biblical number. It’s symbolic. What is it symbolic of? Here it is symbolic of a really long time. It represented all the time in the world, and that no one else was able to help her except for God.. So she was in a desperate situation by the time Jesus rolled into town.

As Christians who struggle in following God with our full hearts, this should resonate with us a little. We tend to turn to God only after we have tried to solve our problems first. The lady had seen many doctors before she sought Jesus’s help. When we have personal and spiritual problems we want to solve them ourselves before coming to God in prayer. Don’t mishear me on this, if you’re sick or ill you need to go see a doctor. This passage isn’t telling you to boycott doctors or mental health specialist or anything like that. But it’s highlighting that we often turn to God last when dealing with our problems. For those that struggle with depression and grief, they may want to fix their problems with alcoholism. For those that struggle with loneliness may try to fix things by falling to lustful desires. For those that have personal problems they may want to try to fix their situation on their own accord or act out of anger. However, our passage reveals to us that faith in God is the solution to struggles in our lives. It is God who makes us perfect, not the world.. Many of us know that when sitting in Sunday school and we’re asked a question we don’t know the answer to that one answer that is never wrong is “Jesus.” We face all sorts of problems, but the only sufficient answer to all of them is Jesus.. Faith in Christ is the only way we can find complete fulfillment in our lives. We can try to fill the holes in by other means, but the only way we will truly be made perfect is by coming to our creator.

Consequently, the sick woman’s faith compelled her to touch the cloak of Jesus. She demonstrated her faith because we know that Jesus had not healed in this exact way before. And as she touched Jesus’s cloak, the language in the Bible reflects that she had BARELY grazed the tip of it with her finger.. In the midst of that loud, pressing, and obnoxious crowd, the smallest touch of a fiber of his clothes caused a complete 180 degree turn in the woman’s life. Just think about how incredible that is. What happens in our story represents how powerful our Lord is. Even the smallest encounters with God can have the most profound effects on our lives, which is why we are encouraged to seek after Him in our faith.

Moreover, there is just so much irony in this story. If you think about it, by Jewish law, our character was not supposed to be in a crowd of clean people. By Jewish law, she was defined as being unworthy to approach God. By Jewish law and reason, when she touched the cloak of Jesus, it was supposed to make Him unclean and not the other way around like it actually happened. In the woman’s encounter with Jesus, we see just how powerful God is. His power didn’t “break the law”, His power overcame the law. His power overcame a law which subjected this woman to feelings of despair and helplessness.

What’s also interesting to think about is the aftermath of the healing. When Jesus questions who touched him, everyone immediately steps back and says, `It wasn’t me! Don’t look at me!’ And Peter says ‘well Jesus… you see… everyone was kind of touching you just now’. But when Jesus then identifies the woman as the culprit, she falls on her knees and trembles. She was so terrified at this moment, she had no idea how He would react. She probably felt that she still wasn’t worthy to be anywhere close to Jesus. And she definitely didn’t want to be the center of attention.

We can all at least relate to this in church. I can tell that not many of you are just dying to sit in the front rows of church today. For those of us who are self-conscious, we are comfortable sitting in church unless it’s the very front and center. Our self consciousness makes us want to keep our distance. The woman probably would have felt way more comfortable and safe if she had kept her distance from all the action. Yet, she stepped out in faith. And what she heard afterwards from Jesus was even more puzzling. Jesus didn’t react harshly, He praised her and told her to go in peace. What would have been the custom for someone being healed is that they would have had to go before the priest and have them declare a person healed before they could be readmitted into society. Christ didn’t have to command her to go see the priest afterwards to proclaim that she is healed. He healed her on the spot and restored her life right then and there. He truly freed hear from physical illness as well as a social disgrace. Which is a great thing!! The woman’s life was looking downward. The place where her life was heading was not a good place. The healing power of Jesus intercepted that and turned her life around.

A beautiful Bible verse comes from Hebrews 10:11-14, which does our topic justice. It reads

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest {Jesus Christ} had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being sanctified.

When we read our passage, it’s easy to take a simple message that says ‘Jesus heals us.’ But that’s not everything that happens here. It was the woman’s faith which compelled her to seek the healer. Jesus didn’t initially seek her out. But she was compelled by faith to step out into an uncomfortable spot. That is what we are encouraged to do. For us, it is essential to being a disciple of Christ to have a faith that pushes us forward and seek God in our lives, even if that means we have to seek Him into uncomfortable situations.

This past weekend our church sent about 14 youth and 7 chaperons to a national youth conference in Kansas City. There was lots of time for worship as well as several workshops which they choose from. During our time, there was a speaker who talked about the power of storytelling and testimonies. One thing that was said when discussing God’s plan was that, “God orchestrates our pathways and journeys. But you, {“emphasis on ‘you’”}, you have to choose what story you will follow.”

God very much had a role in this healing miracle. However, it was the woman who had a faith that caused her to move. She saw Jesus in the moment, opened the door, and took a huge leap of faith. And the result to her opening that door was reclaiming her identity, the person she was meant to be.

As you go out from here I’d like to encourage you to do two things. The first is to reflect on what’s currently happening in your life. Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if there is anything that concerns you. Maybe there’s a family member in the hospital, or you might be struggling with an addiction of some kind. Maybe you’re stressed with something else.. Identify any concerns you are currently having. The second thing I’d like to ask you is, once you’ve identified those concerns, pray to God. Ask God to help you to open that door to Him, so that you can be made whole and glorify Him with your life.

As people who are created by God, our sole-purpose in life is to worship and glorify the creator with our entire being. And when we fall short, we may feel less worthy in fulfilling those roles. However, our circumstances do not hinder us in seeking God. Jesus is still very much in your life. You are not abandoned! The Holy Spirit is still right in front of you, regardless if you can see Him or not. And it’s your job now, to open that door and seek after Him with your full heart and being.


Meeting Jesus: The Prodigal Son’s Father


Meeting Jesus: The Prodigal Son’s Father
A Message on Luke 15:11-32
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 16, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 15:11-32 (NRSV)

Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father[d] said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

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Today we continue our sermon series “Meeting Jesus” while also celebrating Father’s Day by looking at Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. Well, to be more specific, the Prodigal Son’s father.

Now I know this scripture is stretching it as far a fitting into the sermon series about people whose lives were changed by meeting Jesus Christ. The father in this scripture, which is what we are going to focus on today, is a fictional character in a parable told by Jesus. He wasn’t an actual, real, live, breathing person. However, I think there are still some great lessons we can learn from him so we are including him in this series.

So, the parable of the prodigal son. I think an important first step is to look at the context of this scripture. It occurs only in the Gospel of Luke and happens in the 15th chapter.. If we back up to the beginning of the 15th chapter we discover the audience to whom Jesus was telling this parable. Luke 15 begins with “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”

Now this is significant. The Pharisees were the top religious leaders of the day, along with the Sadducees and the scribes. The Pharisees were the experts in living out the Jewish laws. Everything one did should be a reflection of living out the 600 to 700-something laws. They were all about the law and were quick to criticize and condemn those who didn’t live out the law in the way they (the Pharisees) saw it.

The scribes, as the name implies, copied documents and wrote letters. But they were also legal scholars, kind of like lawyers are today. They wrote out legal documents and contracts and things like that.

As far as their social standings in the community the Pharisees and scribes were up at the top. Many of them developed a sense of superiority over the other people in society. They wore the fanciest clothes, lived in the nicest houses, ate the best food, and expected people to move to the side as they walked down the street. They were the social elite of the time.

So, this is the audience that Jesus is speaking to. These are the ones griping and complaining about who Jesus is hanging out with. These are the people who Jesus is addressing, although I think other people were present as well. (Luke had to be present, for example, because he ended up writing it down in his gospel!)

Jesus, in response to the Pharisees and scribes grumbling and griping, tells a series of parables. Now a parable is a fictional story that, through symbolism and metaphorical use, it told to teach religious or moral lessons.

A good example that most of us are familiar with are Aesop’s Fables. For example, there is the tale of the “Boy Who Cried Wolf.” As you remember the boy, watching sheep, kept crying out that wolves were attacking the sheep when, in fact, they were not. The people got tired of hearing it so that when a wolf actually did attack the sheep, they didn’t respond. This gives us the moral lesson of not calling everything an emergency when it is not.

So parables are ways of teaching moral and religious truths without just hitting the audience over the head with them. In terms of communication parables are also much easier to remember.

So Jesus is telling parables. He starts with the parable of the lost sheep, followed by the parable of the lost coin, and then the parable of the prodigal son.

So just exactly what is a “prodigal,” anyway? Well in this sense it means “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.”

The “prodigal” son does like that old Steve Miller song: “Take the money and run.” He blew it all until he was so poor that pigs–which remember are unclean animals according to the Jewish laws–were eating better than he was.

Now it’s important to note that this is the younger son, not the oldest. In those days it was really a big deal. The oldest son got most of the inheritance. The younger siblings (well, sons, pretty much) still got some property or wealth, but not as much as the oldest son. The right of primogeniture, which is what it is called, greatly favored the oldest male child.

This could create a situation in which the younger brother (or sister) might have hard feelings toward the oldest brother. We don’t know if this is the case with the prodigal son but it could be. What we do know is that for whatever reason the son gets his inheritance and leaves. I think it’s safe to say that emotions were running high and that it wasn’t an amicable departure.

But let’s focus on the father. He has two sons. He loves them both. One is dutiful and stays home and works hard and gives his dad honor and respect. The younger son, the prodigal son, leaves and moves far away. He lives the wild life and blows all of his inheritance. Then, when he becomes impoverished, he brings dishonor to the family name. His father’s name. He brings public humiliation and embarrassment to his father.

Now for us being humans viewing this situation from a distance, it’s easy to be angry at the prodigal son. How could he do this to his father? He had to be crushed. You can almost overhear people talking about it behind his back, can’t you?

“Did you hear about that prodigal boy? Yep, talked his poor dad into giving him his inheritance–even though he is in great health and Lord knows it will be decades before he dies–but then he moved off. Just left. I heard he blew all his money on booze and women. He never was responsible, you know, not like his older brother. Why, if he were my boy he would never get away with that. I would give him a piece of my mind… and a knock up the side of his head! Uh uh, he wouldn’t pull that on me.”

It’s easy to fall into that kind of thinking, isn’t it. The prodigal son is disrespectful, thinking only of himself, taking the scripture in Ecclesiastes to “eat, drink, and be merry” way beyond its original intent.

And it’s easy for us to think that when he falls into poverty that he is getting what he deserves. He’s reaping what he sowed. And if we are honest, we kind of want the father to reject him because of what he has done. We want to see him punished for being so reckless and disrespectful. Let him suffer. He deserves it.

And yet in the parable Jesus throws us a curveball. The father isn’t that way. He doesn’t condemn. He doesn’t say “I told you so.” He doesn’t shun the prodigal son. He doesn’t tell him, “You’re dead to me.” Instead, he welcomes the prodigal son joyfully, ignoring social standards by running to him, which was a social faux-pas, embracing him, and throwing a huge party.

Ok, now tell the truth and shame the devil: how many of you would react like the older son? After all, he worked hard, did what was right, didn’t embarrass this father or drag the family name through the mud. And then all of a sudden dad throws a gigantic party for his good-for-nothing son. It’s not fair, right?

I think that’s a normal reaction.

But the father’s response to the older son is beautiful. Here’s The Message paraphrase of it: “Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!”

Now remember, this parable of the prodigal son is part of a series of parables Jesus was telling, and they all had to do with things of value that were lost but now are found.

And all of this is just fine and dandy until we realize the symbolism in these parables. Then the truth of them can drive us to our knees.

The father represents God.

The sons are humans, people on earth, me and you. The older son, the one that stays home and works and doesn’t cause any trouble, are those of us who attend church regularly, who read our Bibles, who try to live moral and ethical lives, who try to live our lives the way the Bible tells us to.

The prodigal son represents those who don’t. They are the ones in our community–and in the world–who don’t go to church, who don’t pray, who don’t read the Bible, who drink, who cuss, who party, who are selfish, self-centered, and care only about themselves. To them Sunday is just another day in the week, a day off, a day to have fun and do what they want. They are the people that maybe even do drugs or have addictions, who steal from others, maybe even are in jail or prison.

Yet those are the people God celebrates when they “come home” and find the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. The angels celebrate mightily when one of the “lost” becomes “found.”

One of the things we as humans do is to think that there is a finite amount of love. In the case of the prodigal son, the older son thought that by his father expressing love for the younger son it would take away and diminish the love his father had for him.

We forget that love is infinite. There is not a limit. The father loved his sons equally. Expressing extravagant love for one son does not take away love from the other son. Love is not like a well with a limited amount of water in it. Ironically, the more you love the more love you have to give.

I want us to do a little thought exercise now. How would you react if one of those “prodigal people” walked into our sanctuary right now and and sat down right next to you, one of those “lost” people the father, the Heavenly Father, loves? What if it was a homeless person who hadn’t bathed in a while. What if they reeked with alcohol on their breath? What if they were another skin color or spoke a different language? What if they were a prostitute? Would you welcome them, REALLY welcome them, and celebrate their presence in the Lord’s house?

It’s not easy. But then God doesn’t call us to do the easy things or go to the easy places.

It’s like the story of an old farmer that wanders into a church service at a small country church. He is dressed in overalls and work boots. The overalls have stains on them, and the boots have dried mud on them.

He sits through the service with people giving him glances of disgust. At the end of the service as he’s leaving a congregation member pulls him aside and says, “You know this is the Lord’s house, and he expects us to dress properly when we come to worship. Why don’t you pray this week to God and see if he doesn’t give you insight into how to dress to come to this church.”

The farmer says he will do so and leaves. The next week he shows up again in the stained overalls and work boots. After the service the same congregation member pulls him aside and says, “I thought I told you to pray about how God wants you to dress for worship services here.”

“I did,” said the farmer.

“So didn’t he answer you?”

“Oh no, he answered me, all right. He said he really didn’t know because he had never been here.”

The parable of the prodigal son teaches us to not only be mindful of the “lost sheep,” but to celebrate when one of them comes home.

It’s easy to judge. It’s harder to love, especially love like our Heavenly Father.

So my challenge for you, on this Father’s Day, is to remember the love the Heavenly Father has for all his children. Not just the nice, clean, well behaved children, but ALL of his children, even those who might be rejecting him now, that are squandering their lives, that are incarcerated. His love for them is as great as his love for us.

Love others completely and genuinely, like God our Father loves us. And let’s throw a party to celebrate when they come home.

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

Meeting Jesus: Peter


Meeting Jesus: Peter
A Message on Acts 2:32-41
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 9, 2019, Pentecost Sunday
By Doug Wintermute

Acts 2:32-41 (NRSV)

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

36 Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

The First Converts
37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

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Today is Pentecost, and important day in the life of the church. Pentecost is the considered the birthday of the church because it is the day the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. Originally it was an observance of the wheat harvest which came 50 days after Easter. (That’s how it got the name “pentecost,” with “pent” being a latin prefix for 5… or something like that. A pentagon, for example, has five sides.)

The liturgical color for Pentecost is red. Why red? Well the answer lies in our first scripture reading today from the first part of the second chapter of Acts. The disciples were gathered all together when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. There was a sound like a rushing wind and “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” — Acts 2:3

Fire is red, so it was decided the liturgical color for Pentecost would be red. (And no, for all you Christmas folks out there, the liturgical color for Advent is purple or blue, not red.)

So today is Pentecost, but we are also going to continue our sermon series titled “Meeting Jesus,” exploring people in the Bible whose lives were changed by meeting Jesus, and today that person is Peter.

Peter is also called Simon Peter or even Cephas. Before he was called to follow Jesus he was, like many of the disciples, a fisherman. Andrew, also a fisherman, was his brother. Peter goes from fishing for fish to fishing for people when he answers Jesus call to “follow me.”

Peter becomes a leader of the 12 disciples. He was a very passionate leader. He was very spontaneous, the kind of person who would act first and explain later. Instead of “ready, aim, fire,” Peter was “fire, ready, aim.”

Peter is the one who walks on water in the middle of the storm, doing so successfully until he takes his eyes off of Jesus. The rest of the disciples stay in the boat, but not Peter.

Peter is a risk taker. If he ever went to Six Flags he would ride all the scary rides.

Peter is the one of the first people to recognize Jesus as the messiah. In Matthew 16 Jesus asks his disciple who people say he is, and then asks the disciples specifically who they think he is. Peter boldy replies, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

But Peter also had to deal with some guilt. It was Peter, after all, that denied Jesus three times the night he was arrested, even after being told he would do so. After his resurrection Jesus forgives him three times when they are by the side of the sea.

So that gives you a brief glimpse into who Peter was. Now let’s look at Peter’s role at Pentecost.

As we read in the second chapter of Acts, Peter is with the disciples when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. In the first chapter of Acts Jesus tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes upon them, and they do. They don’t know when it will be, but they have faith and wait. It happens at Pentecost, 50 days after Easter.

Once the Spirit comes upon them and they start speaking in all the different tongues, the people observing them start freaking out a little. Some people, in an attempt to explain the Disciples’ behavior, even accuse them of being drunk!

Peter is the one who comes to the disciples’ defence and is the spokesperson, if you will, for them. I love how he refutes the theory they are drunk by saying that it’s too early in the day, only 9 in the morning, so the disciples couldn’t be drunk.

Then he starts preaching. He starts telling about Jesus and how things have changed forever because of Jesus. He talks about how Jesus is, indeed, the messiah. He uses the Hebrew scriptures to show how Jesus fulfills the scriptures regarding the messiah.

They Peter switches gears, somewhat. After proving that Jesus is the messiah, he then turn evangelist and starts saving souls.

He tells them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Peter is a very complex person. Passionate, dedicated, leader, and all-in follower of Jesus Christ. He was also very human, susceptible to the same temptations, the same fears, the same disappointments and rejections that we deal with.

Here’s what I think a news story about Peter’s denial of Jesus might sound like if Peter had been living today.

JERUSALEM–The group known as “The Disciples” is again in the public eye after the group found itself at the center of a disturbance in which witnesses say many foreign languages were spoken and supernatural phenomena took place.

The group is thought to have gone underground after the death of its leader, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was accused by Jewish authorities of false teachings and was arrested, tried, and executed by the Roman army. Although it has been denied by both Jewish religious authorities and the Roman government officials, several witnesses claim that three days after he was executed, Jesus rose from the dead.

The Disciples group went underground after Jesus death and had not appeared in public as a group for 50 days. Then, on Sunday, they appeared in Jerusalem to celebrate the harvest festival known as Pentecost.

Witnesses to the event say that a loud atmospheric phenomena, like the rushing sound of a violent wind, filled the building where the disciples were meeting. They also said tongues, which appeared to be fire, rested on each one of the disciples heads. No burns were reported, however. At the same time, the disciples began speaking in many different languages. The crowd expressed amazement that so many languages were being spoken.

Some who witnessed the event accused the disciples of being drunk in public, but one the leader of the disciples, Simon Peter, refuted that claim. He then gave an impassioned proclamation about Jesus, saying that Jesus is the Messiah and quoting scripture to substantiate that claim.

He ended by saying, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Many in the crowd heeded his words, as approximately 3,000 people were baptized and joined the movement.

Okay, so maybe something like that.

So what can we learn from Peter.

I think one thing we can learn is to respond to Jesus’ call on your life.

When we think of calls, we usually think of people who become ordained ministers. I certainly had a call, and in answering that call I became an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.

But I am convinced that every Christian, every single one, has a calling from God. It doesn’t have to be to ordained ministry. There are an infinite variety of callings, of ways you can respond to God. What is God calling you to do? And will you say yes, the way Peter did?

Another thing we can learn from Peter is to keep going through our failures. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for Peter to deal with the fact that he denied Jesus three times. Even when Jesus forgives him three times on the seashore after his resurrection, it had to be hard.

But Peter didn’t give up. He picked himself up and kept going. As that country song says, “If you’re going through Hell ,Keep on going, don’t slow down, If you’re scared, don’t show it, You might get out, Before the devil even knows you’re there.”

In our lives the easiest thing to do when we encounter difficulties is the give up. Just throw in the towel and say, “This is too hard. I can’t do this. I give up.”

But Peter didn’t quit. He kept on going, and in doing so became a great leader of the early church.

Another thing I think we can learn from Peter is that it’s okay to be passionate for Jesus. It’s okay to be enthusiastic, to be “on fire” for Jesus.

John Wesley once said, “When you set yourself on fire, people love to come and see you burn.” Now he doesn’t mean that literally, of course, but people are drawn to enthusiastic people.

There’s a nickname for congregations that just sit in the pews on Sunday and that’s it, they don’t do much of anything else. They are called the “frozen chosen.” Don’t be a frozen chosen.

The Holy Spirit came upon Peter and the disciples at Pentecost. It comes upon us at our baptism. We baptize with water, but also with the Holy Spirit. After the water is applied I place my hand on your head and say, “… the Holy Spirit work within you, that having been born through water and the Spirit, you may live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”

Peter promises the gift of the Holy Spirit to those at Pentecost who are baptized. We also have the Holy Spirit in us. The problem is that some of us don’t act like it. There should be no such thing as a “passive Christian.” We are called to get up and go! We shouldn’t be sitting on the premises but should be standing on the promises!

Now we need to temper that enthusiasm. Peter learned that when he cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Malchus, when the authorities came to arrest Jesus. Jesus tells Peter to put his sword away, and in Luke’s gospel Jesus touches Malchus’ ear and heals it.

So, my challenge to you this Pentecost Sunday is to let the Holy Spirit dwell within you. Have those characteristics that made Peter a great leader among the disciples. Respond to God’s call on your life. Keep going through the tough times. And be enthusiastic about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Just don’t cut off anyone’s ear.

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

Meeting Jesus: The Roman Guard

“Meeting Jesus: The Roman Guard”
A Message on Acts 16:25-34
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 2, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Acts 16:25-34 (NRSV)

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer[a] called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord[b] to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

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Today I want to start off by asking you to think of your favorite sports team. It can even be one of the Jacksonville Indians sports teams. Okay, got it?

Now, think about that team’s arch rivals. Think about the team that is the nemesis of your favorite team.

That’s easy for me to do. My favorite sports team is the Texas Rangers. I have been a fan through thick and thin (and there has been more thin than thick with them through the years). I also like the Houston Astros, but they are secondary to my Rangers.

I also have a team that is a rival of the Rangers and now the Astros, too. I like to tell people my three favorite baseball teams are the 1. Rangers, 2. the Astros, and 3. whoever is playing the New York Yankees.

I just don’t like the Yankees. It goes back to the days of George Steinbrenner and spending ba-jillions of dollars on players in order to win championships. I didn’t like the Yankees’ owner, I didn’t like their management, and with few exceptions, I didn’t like their players actions off the field. To be truthful, I just don’t like New York City, either..

Okay, so think of your favorite sports team’s rival, something similar to my view of the Yankees. Okay, so what would it take for you to do a 180 turn and instead of disliking the team become a fan of that team? A big fan. What drastic measures would it take for you to love what you loathe?

Hmmmmm. It would take something really drastic for me to be a fan of the Yankees. Really drastic!

Okay, now let’s take that thought and apply it to the scripture we read today from the book of Acts. As you heard in the first reading, Paul and Silas come across a slave girl who is also a diviner, or a fortune teller. The girl’s owners take advantage of her gift by using her to make money. She tells people’s fortunes, and they get the money.

Well when she sees the apostles she God reveals who they are to her. She started following them and cried out over and over, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She did this for several days, which, if you ask me, would get pretty annoying.

Finally Paul invokes the name of Jesus to remove the spirit that is within her. When word gets back to her owners they are ticked. There goes their money maker. Without the spirit within her, she can no longer tell fortunes, and thus, no longer make them money.

So they drag Paul and Silas before the authorities. They are beaten on their bare skin with rods and then thrown in prison.

Now let’s talk about ancient prisons for a while. They weren’t nice places to be. Even modern ones are not pleasant places to be, but back in the first century they were very much inhumane. We’re talking real bad.

The ancient historian Sallust described one such Roman prison, in which Paul would later be incarcerated, as “Foul from neglect, darkness, and stench, it is an altogether terrifying sight.”

Get the picture?

Paul and Silas were put in the most secure part of the prison, the innermost cell. Their feet were put in stocks, which kept them from even moving about the small cell.

So what do Paul and Silas do while they are in prison, hurting from the beatings they had received? They sing. They sing and pray. Aloud. They minister to the other inmates who are locked in the hellish prison with them.

And then there is an earthquake that shakes the building, opening all the doors to the cells and and unshackling the chains that bind the prisoners.

When the jailer checks on the prison and sees the doors all open, he draws his sword to kill himself. Now why would he do that? Because under Roman law the jailer was responsible for the prisoners. If anything happened to them the jailer would be beaten, tortured, and executed. The jailer knew that, so he was choosing the less painful of the options before him.

But Paul cries out to him and tells him that the prisoners have not run away, even though they had the ability to do that, and that they are all still there.

That in itself is a miracle. Prisons in those days were not for long term incarceration. Prisoners stayed in them only a short while, usually a matter of days, before they were convicted and punished. Many of them were put to death.

So for these prisoners to have the ability to run for their lives–literally–and to not take advantage of that is significant.

Now I make an assumption, and I think it’s a safe one, that the jailer probably wasn’t very nice to his prisoners. I grew up on a farm and know that you don’t make pets of livestock that are bound for your deep freeze. (Pam’s dad used to choose names for his cows that made this a little easier, names like “T-bone,” “Hamburger,” and “Sirloin.”) I think the same principle would apply to doomed prisoners, as well.

He had probably treated Paul and Silas and the other prisoners very roughly. He had probably been mean to them and perhaps even mistreated them. But when the earthquake happens and nobody runs away, he does something incredible and unexpected: he fell down before them.

The man responsible for guarding the prisoners throws himself down at the mercy of the prisoners. He realizes that this God they worship and the Jesus that they follow are not only real, but also powerful. And he wants to have “some of what they’re having,” what Paul and Silas have, a faith that is so deep that even when they are severely beaten and thrown into prison they still sing praises to their God.

Now here is something that I find interesting about this scripture, and why I included it in this sermon series. This whole series is about people in the Bible whose lives are changed by an encounter with Jesus. But in the scripture we read today from Acts, Jesus has already been dead, resurrected, and ascended into heaven. And we have to remember that Paul, one of the main characters in this true story, never encountered Jesus while he was in human form on earth. Paul converted from persecuting Christians to becoming one of the movement’s leaders after his experience with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Here’s the important part: the only Jesus the Roman guard knows is the one that has been shown to him by Paul and Silas. The only Jesus he knows is the one he encountered through someone else.

This is theologically very significant because as Christians we are called to let others encounter the risen Jesus Christ through us by our words and actions. The only Jesus unchurched people may ever experience may be through us. The only picture they may see of Jesus is the one our lives draw for them.

In the case of the Roman prison guard we find that he sees a portrait of Jesus that has been painted by Paul and Silas while they have been in prison. Their focus on God, their care and concern for other prisoners instead of themselves, and their unwavering faith in a time of crisis had a powerful effect on the guard, so much so that he and his whole family were baptized and become Christians.

(This scripture is one of the reasons we, as United Methodists, believe in infant and children baptism. The scriptures say the guard and “his entire family were baptized without delay.” When it says “entire family,” we interpret that to mean children as well.)

So my challenge to you this week is to let Jesus be visible to others through you. Let us live our lives in such a way that our words and our actions paint a portrait of Jesus Christ that others can see.

Years ago there was a contemporary Christian song by Joy Williams titled, “Do They See Jesus In Me.” The words to the chorus were:

Do they see Jesus in me
Do they recognize Your face
Do I communicate Your love and Your grace
Do I reflect who You are
In the way I choose to be
Do they see Jesus in me

Let others see Jesus in you.

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


Meeting Jesus: Mary


“Meeting Jesus: Mary”
A Message on John 19:25-27
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 12, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

John 19:25-27 (NRSV)

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

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Today is Mother’s Day, a day set aside to honor mothers everywhere for all the great things they do.

I want to start off today tell you about Anna Jarvis, who lived in West Virginia right after the turn of the century in the early 1900s. Anna was a Methodist, a member of St. Andrews Methodist Church located in Grafton, West Virginia.

In 1905 Anna got an idea that it would be a good idea to have a special day to honor mothers everywhere, especially her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis. Anna’s mom had died that year. She was an incredible woman, having been a peace activist who had taken care of wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, as well as starting clubs for moms to address public health issues.

Anna wanted some way to pay tribute to her mom for all the things she had done, and for all mothers, saying that a mother is “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”

In 1908, Congress was petitioned to make Mother’s Day a national holiday, but they refused. States, however, thought it was a good idea so they started making it a holiday. Then, in 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed legislation making Mother’s Day a nationally recognized holiday.

That’s not the end of the story, however. Anna Jarvis became very upset with the commercialism of Mother’s Day. She started organizing boycotts of the holiday (talk about irony!) and protesting at conventions of companies that profited from the holiday. In 1925, at a meeting of American War Mothers, who were selling carnations for Mother’s Day, she got so upset that she was actually arrested for disturbing the peace.

I find that very ironic, somehow. I also find it ironic that Anna Jarvis, the woman who created Mother’s Day, never had children.

When I was growing up in Cooper, TX it was tradition on Mother’s Day to give carnations to mothers in attendance who had the youngest child, who had a child that traveled the farthest to be there, who had the most children, etc.

My mom won several times for having the most children (there were six of us).

I always felt awkward with that distinction. Mother’s day should not be a competitive contest. Not only that, but there are women who want to be mothers, who try everything they can to become a mother, but who are not successful. All the contests can make women in those situations fee pretty bad. I have known women who refused to go to church on Mother’s Day because of that very reason.

Motherhood is a rollercoaster of experiences and emotions. The highest of joys and the deepest of sorrows.

Our scripture today is about a woman, a mother, who experienced both the highs and lows of motherhood, perhaps more than any other person has. Mary, the mother of Jesus, understood both the joys and sorrows of motherhood.

She experienced the joy and anxiousness of being visited by the angel Gabriel and being told she would be giving birth to the Son of God, the Messiah. Even though she was young, she had to be familiar with the biology of how a child is created, and what the angel told her didn’t make sense biologically, but she trusted anyway, saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Mary probably didn’t anticipate the circumstances in which Jesus was born. I don’t know of any woman who wants to give birth to her child in a barn. And then, when they go to dedicate the baby, hearing the prophet Simeon tell Mary “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Mary also had to worry about her secret of being married to Joseph yet having a child that wasn’t his. We know that Joseph was told in a dream about the situation and so he didn’t divorce Mary, which he was well within his rights to.

Mary even knew the anxiousness and worry of not knowing where her child was. In the second chapter of Luke we are told that Jesus, when he was about 12, didn’t leave Jerusalem with the family when they were returning home. Mary and Joseph probably thought he was travelling with other family members and it wasn’t until they had traveled for a day that they realized Jesus was missing. They frantically went back to Jerusalem where it took them three days to find him. And when they found him, he was with the best and brightest religious leaders of the day, listening to them and asking them questions.

I can just imagine Mary grabbing Jesus by the ear and dragging him out of there, telling him, “I don’t care if you are the Son of God, you will tell me where you are at all times, do you understand me young man?”

And we must remember that it was at the prompting of his mother that Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine.

Mary watched her son mature and begin his ministry. She saw him give sight to the blind, give hearing to the deaf, and make the lame to walk. She saw the crowds adore him and the religious leaders try to kill him. She saw him dining and hanging out with those that were the outcasts of society. She heard him speaking in parables that puzzled the religious leaders of the day. She saw him select 12 men to be his disciples, one of which would betray him.

And in the scripture we read today we hear how she watched her son be tortured and painfully and slowly executed as if he was a common criminal.

As a pastor I can tell you that one of the most heart-wrenching moments that causes such pain among people is the death of a child. As more than one person has told me, parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children. Age doesn’t matter. Whether it is a young child or grown adult with grandchildren of their own, the grief is overwhelming. It simply breaks a parent’s heart. I am just an observer, but it breaks my heart as well. I hold in high esteem those that go through situations like this.

I can say that I know how I would feel if it was one of my two daughters. But I really don’t know, and I hope and pray that I don’t ever find out.

We can try to imagine Mary’s pain as she saw he son hanging on the cross, but we really can’t know, can we? It had to be devastating. Beyond devastating. I wonder if she thought back to the things Gabriel told her, to the things Simeon told her. I wonder if her faith in God waivered. How could God allow this to happen? Surely there must be a better way! I wonder if she thought that mothers weren’t supposed to outlive their children.

The bottom line is we simply don’t know. The scripture tells us that Jesus called “the disciple he loved,” which most scholars agree is John, and told him to take care of Mary, his mother.

Now this is interesting because we know that Jesus had siblings. Mary had more children after Jesus, with Joseph being the father. For example, James, whose writings appear as a book in the Bible, was a half brother of Jesus. Same mother, but different father.

In those days if something happened to the first born son, then it was the second born son that had the responsibility to take care of his parents as they aged. So why didn’t Jesus tell James or one of his other siblings to take care of his mother? Why did he choose John, who was not even a relative?

We can only speculate, but one of the reasons may be that James wasn’t around. Most of the disciples left Jesus when he was arrested and especially when he was crucified. It was something Jesus had predicted. John 16:32 reads, “The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.”

We know that after Jesus death and resurrection the disciples got back together as a group. We know because John 20:19 says that they were together in a room with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. They were afraid the Jews would crucify them just as they had done Jesus. It was then that the resurrected Jesus came and stood among them.

Another possibility for Jesus entrusting his mother’s care to John is that John is the only disciple to live to an old age. All the others were martyred at various times and places. John is the only one that made it to his senior years, which might have affected Jesus decision.

We know that Mary’s life was changed by meeting Jesus. Anyone who has had children knows that having a child does indeed change one’s life.

So what can we learn from Mary that we may apply to our lives, especially as we celebrate mothers?

First, I think Mary can remind us that following Jesus doesn’t mean we will lead trouble-free lives. You would think that of all people Mary wouldn’t have any problems after giving birth to and raising the Son of God. Right? But that wasn’t the case. Her blood pressure rose and her heart probably raced as she and Joseph looked for a lost Jesus in Jerusalem, just like ours does when we can’t find one of our kids. And I’m sure the tears flowed as she stood at the foot of the cross.

Another thing I think we can learn from Mary is to trust in God. She had to trust in God when she conceived Jesus, and she had to trust him even when her son was dying. That doesn’t mean she didn’t question God or even angry with God. I tell people that it’s okay to be angry with God. It’s okay to argue with God, and sometimes that makes us feel better during difficult times, but just know that God will win the argument.

Paul talks about how in this life we see things as in a mirror dimly. We aren’t God, so we can’t predict the outcome of everything in our lives. We can only see things from our limited perspective. We can’t see the whole picture. That’s why we have to trust God.

Trusting God is not easy. It’s a day-by-day and sometimes hour-by-hour process. But when we don’t know what to do we have to put our trust in someone who does.

Another thing I think we can learn from the scripture we read today about Mary is to honor and take care of our mothers. Paul, writing in Ephesians, says “Honor your mother and father” is the first commandment with a promise: “…so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

I think this is missing in today’s society. I have heard children backtalk and even curse their mothers in public. Unless there is an underlying mental issue with that child, I think he/she should learn what Ivory soap tastes like. (And yes, I personally know what it tastes like.)

We are to honor our mothers. They gave us life. They nurtured us, carried us in their bodies, and went through extreme pain in order to bring us into the world. They fed us, took care of us, and taught us. They are our moms. We should honor and respect them. It’s just the right thing to do.

So my challenge to you this week is to be like Mary, Jesus’ mom. Know that just because God calls you (and he calls each one of us) he doesn’t guarantee you a trouble free life. Trust in God, not only during the good times, but especially in the difficult times. And honor your mother like Jesus honored Mary, his mother. Moms aren’t perfect, but honor them and respect them. They may have made bad life choices, they may have emotionally scarred you, but they are still your mom.

Make Anna Jarvis, the creator of Mother’s Day, proud.

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