Lent: Fasting

Lent: Fasting
A Message on Matthew 4:1-11
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 1, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

Matthew 4:1-11 (NRSV)

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

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Today is the first Sunday in Lent, the Christian season of preparation before Easter. It is not a joyous celebratory type of season, but one that is pensive, reflective, and a time for repentance.

In the scripture we read today we find Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. Right before the scripture we read today Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. As soon as that happens then Jesus goes into the desert or wilderness where he fasts for 40 days and nights and is tempted by the devil.

One of the spiritual disciplines that many people practice during Lent is fasting, and they do this because Jesus himself fasted.

But what is fasting? Why do it?

A simple definition of fasting is to willfully refrain from eating for a period of time. Pretty basic, right?

But there are different types of fasts. There is fasting from food during the day, fasting from particular types of foods, fasting from solid foods but allowing liquids like fruit juice, fasting from meat (although fish is okay because it is not considered meat, which I still don’t understand), and fasting from everything but water.

We even call the morning meal “breakfast” because we are breaking a fast from not eating at night.

Today there is even a health trend for intermittent fasting that is supposed to help you lose weight, feel better, and be healthier.

While there are debates for and against the health benefits of fasting, I want to focus today on the spiritual aspects of fasting.

First, a caveat: check with your doctor before fasting from food. Seriously. Make sure you are healthy enough to do it.

Okay, so what does abstaining from food have to do with religion? Why do it?

The way I think about fasting is to use something earthly as an opportunity to focus on something heavenly. When we fast from food we take something earthly, hunger, and use it to focus on something heavenly, like prayer.

Dr. Kevin Watson spoke at the Northwest District Leadership Summit yesterday about discipleship. He was talking about means of grace and mentioned fasting and how fasting helps to remind us to pray. I like the way he put it: “It’s easy to forget to pray, but it’s hard to forget you are hungry.”

The point of fasting is to help us to focus on God.

Now there is an important part of fasting I haven’t mentioned yet. In order for a fast to be effective, you need to fast from something that you consider to be good or valuable.

Someone told me they were fasting from kale. I asked them if they liked kale. They said no, that’s why they were fasting from it.

While that may meet the technical definition of a fast it doesn’t meet the spirit of a fast. A fast should be from something you enjoy, you like, that you view positively.

I think it’s okay to fast from other things than food, especially if you have medical conditions that would make it unsafe for you to fast.

This is the kind of fast that people often talk about when they say they are “giving up” something for lent. This category of “fasts” can be very broad. People give up things like social media, chocolate, soft drinks, shopping, sweets or desserts, cussing, alcohol, driving like a maniac… the list can go on and on.

Again, those are good if it helps you focus on God instead of the things you like or crave.

Fasting doesn’t have to be limited to Lent, by the way. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, fasted twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, the entire year. And he also believed in eating only six ounces of meat per day, by the way.

Something that can go hand in hand with fasting during Lent is to add things. Bible reading, specified prayer times, meditation, acts of mercy or compassion, giving alms… all these things are great additions to the personal sacrifices of fasting.

Jesus fasted in the desert before beginning his ministry. He used that time to pray, to meditate, to reflect, and to prepare for the incredible task ahead of him.

What if we did the same thing? What if we fasted either from food or other things to create opportunities for us to focus on prayer, meditation, reflection, and to prepare for our commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ?

Now it won’t be easy. The devil tempted Jesus when he was fasting, and the devil will tempt us as well.

Jesus responded to the devil by quoting Deuteronomy to him, a different scripture for each temptation. We can do the same thing by studying the scriptures so we will be able to quote them back to the devil. The desires from our fasts can refocus us to God, to the treasures that last forever and which can never be stolen from us.

Jesus didn’t willingly go to the cross so that we can live selfish and self-serving lives. He gave himself for us, that we could be reconciled to God, something we aren’t able to do by ourselves. It was his grace that gives us forgiveness of our sins. That is why we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, to remind us of the sacrifice Jesus made and just how great God’s love for us is.

So my challenge to you on this first Sunday of Lent is to encourage you to fast, either with food or in other ways. Use earthly desires to focus on heavenly things. Let us remember Jesus fasting in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, and how he quoted scripture to the devil. Let us focus less on ourselves and more on others and God.

And remember, it doesn’t count to fast from kale if you don’t like kale.

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

Brand New: Song

Brand New: Song
A Message on Colossians 3:12-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Feb. 9, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

Colossians 3:12-17 (NRSV)

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

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I suffered a big disappointment this past Wednesday. And no, it did NOT have anything to do with politics. (Although I am disappointed how politicians ON BOTH SIDES are acting these days…)

In preparing for this sermon I became aware that the song, “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” is not in the United Methodist Hymnal. Nope, it’s not there. I double checked. In the back of the hymnal there is an index of hymns listed by both title and first lines of the hymn. It wasn’t there. I even looked under authors. Nope. Nada.

So I grabbed a trusty ol’ Cokesbury Hymnal, and sure enough, beautifully printed on page 231, is “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.”

And then it made me realize that a person (or several persons) sat around a table while working on the “new” UMC Hymnal (which came out in 1989 by the way) and made the decision, “Nah, let’s don’t include ‘His Eye Is On The Sparrow’ in the new hymnal. Let’s leave it out.”

If I had been in that room I would have… let me be careful how I phrase this… vehemently protested. Actually, I would have had a conniption fit. I might have yelled, “Now let me get this straight. You want to remove ‘His Eye Is On The Sparrow” but you want to put in a hymn titled, ‘Jaya Ho’ that starts out with ‘Jaya Ho, Jaya Ho, Jaya Ho, Jaya Ho…’ What’s wrong with you people!”

(And that’s why I’m not on the hymnal revision committee.)

To me the hymn “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” is a beautiful, wonderful hymn. I especially like the chorus:

(get guitar and sing)
I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
For his eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me

I bring up that hymn because today as we continue our sermon series on “Brand New” we are going to look at the subject of “song.” In the scripture we read today the apostle Paul writing to the believers in Colossae and encouraging them not to give in to worldly thinking.

Back then, as now, some of the people calling themselves Christians were finding themselves facing different beliefs and teachers.

The followers of Jesus were still trying to figure out what it meant to be a follower of Christ. They had a few writings, but didn’t have the guidance of the entire Bible like we do today. (Which means we should be doing better than they did back then, right? Hmmmmm.)

But in Chapter 3 of Colossians he starts talking about the “new life in Christ, saying “set your mind on things above…” and “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly…”

In this midst of his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes this: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” — Colossians 3:16

I want to focus today on the last part of that sentence: “…with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”

Have you ever been so excited about something that you just have to make some sort of vocalization or shout something out? I have. And I sometimes still do!

A lot of my exuberant guttural vocalizations occur when I am kayak fishing, and it’s probably a good thing because usually there aren’t many people around to witness it. But if I catch a decent size fish that really puts up a good fight, and I get it to the boat without it getting unhooked, I get so pumped up that I’ll let out a loud, “Wooooooo hooooooooooo!” Or maybe, “YESSSSSSS!”

I get so excited that I just have to let it out. If I try to keep it in I feel like I will explode.

That’s the kind of excitement that Paul wants us to have about being a follower of Jesus.

One of the ways we can “let out” the excitement of being a Christian is through music. We sing songs that express the way we feel both through the lyrics and music.

If you think about it, we use music to express things that are difficult to express just in words. Take love for example. How many songs are there that have been written about love? I dare say millions!

Check out the charts. Nearly every song is about love, about relationships. I would play and sing some of them but in checking the lyrics of the top 40 songs many of them have some language that I’m reluctant to use in church. Well, I won’t use that kind of language outside of church as well.

Something mysterious happens when we put words to music. When they are combined they become something unique, something that speaks to and from our souls. It expresses our joy, our pain, our emotions in a very unique way.

We as Christians we should be so full of the love of Jesus that we sing about it as well!

Our Bible contains a hymnal, by the way. It’s called the Psalms. These are words written to be sung with music. Unfortunately there was no way back then of saving melodies or music when they were written, so we don’t have the music part of them, but the psalms are the lyrics to that music.

John and Charles Wesley discovered the power music has to spread the Gospel. They took the tunes of some songs sung in the taverns and bars of that day and put different lyrics to them. People in the bars were familiar with the music, and before long they were singing the religious lyrics other than the ribald ones.

Here’s a somewhat modern example of what that might look like. How many of you are familiar with the song “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” written by Steve Goodman and sung by David Allen Coe? It’s also known as the “You don’t have to call me darlin’, darlin” song. Some of you my age and older may remember it.

But if we do the Wesley thing with it it might sound something like this: (Get guitar and sing to the tune of “You Never Even Called Me By My Name”)

Well I was lost until I found my savior Jesus
My life was filled with strife, sin and pain
But when I turned to Christ, I hit my knees and said, “Save me, Lord!”
Then I started living a brand new way

So I’ll love you, and I’ll sing my praises to you
Cause Jesus, your love makes me want to sing
Oooooh thank you God, for sending your only son, Jesus
My life will never ever
No my life will never ever
My life will never ever be the same

“…with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”

The Bible has many verses that talk about singing.

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.” Psalm 100:1-2

“Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.” Psalm 147:1

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.” James 5:13

“O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” Psalm 95:1

“What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also.” 1 Corinthians 14:15

And those are but a tiny fraction of the verses in the Bible that talk about singing.

So we should sing! That’s what I want us to do right now. And I really want you to sing out. Our Chancel Choir is awesome and we have great singers in it, but I want you to sing so that they can hear you. I want you to sing in celebration of what Jesus Christ has done in your life. I want you to sing as a way of worshipping our God, who sent his only son to die for each one of us, to redeem us. I want you to sing with excitement and with joy! (Get guitar and lead songs)

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace!

All creatures of our God and king
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
O praise ye! Alleluia!

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus
Sing his mercy and his grace
In the mansions bright and blessed
He’ll prepare for us a place

When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory

So my challenge to you this week is to sing! Sing songs of God’s love for you and your love for God. Sing with music and voice, but also by behavior and deed. Let the whole world know that:

(Sing) I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
For his eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me

And if you have the chance to recommend me for the hymnal revision committee, I’d really appreciate it.

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

Brand New: Strengthened

Brand New: Strengthened

A Message on Isaiah 40:28-31

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Jan. 19, 2020

By Doug Wintermute


Isaiah 40:28-31 (NRSV)

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

    his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

    and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

    and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

    they shall walk and not faint.

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How many of you ever watched “The World’s Strongest Man” competition on TV? I can remember watching them when I was in junior high school and I was impressed. They would pull buses and pick up these huge rocks and throw things (they were beer kegs I found out later) and I was impressed. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be strong.

The trouble with that was that I was short and skinny. Now looking at my tall, pudgy figure now you may not believe it,but it was true. Very true. When I started high school I weighed 80 pounds. It’s hard to be a strong man when you weigh 80 pounds as a high school freshman.

I remember reading comic books (my generation’s version of an iPad) and seeing ads for the Charles Atlas fitness system. It showed a small, skinny guy getting sand kicked on him at the beach, but after he used the system he was all muscled up and buff and nobody messed with him. That’s how I wanted to be.

One day in junior high we went to the field house where the high school football boys worked out. They let us lowly junior high boys lift the weights and use the strength training equipment. As expected I didn’t do too well with the weights, which was very disappointing to me. I worked hauling hay in the summers and I had pretty good strength in my legs, but not my upper body. Everybody was lifting more than I could. Everybody. I was embarrassed.

During our rotations we came to one piece of equipment devised to increase grip strength. It had two handles, one on each side, and you squeezed one side and then the other. There was an adjustment in the middle which could be adjusted to increase or decrease the resistance.

I expected I would perform miserably at this machine as well. My time came and I started gripping, and then tightening the resistance, and then doing it again.

I ended up doing the top level of it, as high of a resistance as it could go. My classmates gathered around, not believing what they were seeing. I had trouble believing what I was seeing! Here’s this scrawny, small kid (who was still years away from needing to shave) who couldn’t bench press his own weight and he was squeezing this contraption at a setting the other boys (some of whom were shaving) couldn’t move.

It didn’t take me long to figure out why. See my dad believed in farm to table way before it was popular. We raised and processed our own beef. We had a big garden and canned vegetables. And we had a milk cow, named Brownie, and my job was to milk her by hand, twice a day, every day.

We drank raw, unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk. Dad believed that pasteurizing and homogenizing the milk took all the “good stuff” out of it, so we a milk cow and had fresh milk to drink.

That day in the weight room I realized that all those days of milking Brownie had done something to my body. It happened very slowly over a long period of time, but day by day, even though I wasn’t aware of it, it strengthened the muscles in my forearms and made my grip strong. Very strong.

Today, many years later, my grip strength is probably only normal or maybe a little below normal. My grip strength didn’t last once I stopped milking a cow. I do still have the strength, however, to hold a fishing pole, drumsticks, and chicken wings, so I’m good.

Today I want us to explore the topic of strength as we continue our sermon series on being “Brand New” in Jesus Christ.

Now the scripture I just read come to us from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. You may remember that Isaiah was a prophet somewhere around the 8th century BC. As most prophets did, he tried to convince the Jewish people to turn from their evil ways and follow the one true God. In the words of the modern-day sorta-prophet musical group Santana, “You got to change your evil ways, baby…”

The book of Isaiah is filled with political references as well, dealing with kingdoms and power and nations fighting each other. Through it the prophet tells the Jewish people that their true loyalty lies with God, not with human forms of government. (Hmmmm. Not a bad reminder for us today, either, if you ask me.)

Isaiah also gives prophecies about the Messiah that was to come. One such prophecy (actually a series of four poems), known as the “Suffering Servant” prophecy, talks about how the Messiah will suffer at the hands of men before ushering in God’s kingdom.

The 40th chapter of Isaiah starts off offering comfort to God’s people. It reads,

Comfort, O comfort my people,

    says your God.

  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

    and cry to her

that she has served her term,

    that her penalty is paid,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

    double for all her sins.

But towards the end of the chapter the prophet again chastises the people of Israel for thinking they can do things that they believe God doesn’t see.

Why do you say, O Jacob,

    and speak, O Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord,

    and my right is disregarded by my God”?

   Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

And then we come to the end of the 40th chapter and Isaiah offers encouragement and hope for a people that have gone through difficult times.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I often choose the scripture I read today to read to those that are in the hospital recovering from hip and knee surgeries. I choose it because I think it’s good for them to hear that “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

I really like what Isaiah does here. He uses the image of physical strength and uses it as a metaphor for spiritual strength.

The people of Israel had been beat up pretty well in the time of Isaiah. In about 740 BC or so Israel is invaded by the Neo-Assyrian Empire and were oppressed under their rule. It was tough times for God’s people.

Looking at that metaphor of physical strength representing spiritual strength I think it’s important for us to hear today. The world we live in also shows that God’s people, Christians, are also going through tough times, perhaps not physically (although unfortunately in many parts of the world it is true), but spiritually.

Our society in the US is becoming more and more anti-Christian. On some college campuses Christian groups are labeled as “hate groups.” The media and entertainment industry portrays Christians as uneducated buffoons that believe in superstitions and who are hateful and judgemental. We get beat up pretty bad as Christians nowadays, maybe not physically, but emotionally and spiritually we take some pretty serious blows.

Our own denomination is causing angst and worries among those who call themselves United Methodists. The special called General Conference last year was supposed to decide the sexuality issue once and for all. It didn’t. Now the proposals coming forward for the upcoming General Conference in May all talk about separation, about splitting the church.

We live in troubling times, and our spiritual strength is taking a beating.

Often times when I visit congregation members in the hospital I will read to them the scripture we read from Isaiah. I like to point out that the scripture says, “…those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.”

It’s hard to wait for the Lord, isn’t it? We live in an instant gratification society. We want what we want and we want it now! You can order almost anything from Amazon and have it on your doorstep in two days for less. Remember the days when you would order something off of tv and it always said something like (use announcer voice) “please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery”?

We want instant gratification in our spiritual lives as well. For example we pray something like, “Dear Lord, give me patience, and give it to me NOW!” And we find that instead of God giving us patience, he provides us with opportunities to practice patience.

And it is in using those spiritual muscles regularly over and over we find that over time we are strengthened, that we are able to practice patience easier than we used to.

“…those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength…”

On Wednesdays at 10:30 we have chapel time with our Readiness School. It’s one of the highlights of my week because I get to bring my guitar into this sanctuary and lead more than 100 kids from birth through 4-years-old in singing some songs.

Some of the kids think my name is Chapel. Yep. My first name is Chapel and my last name is Time. I will be walking by the playground while they are out playing and they will run up to the fence and yell to me, “Chapel Time! Chapel Time!”

Did you know that there are a lot of children’s songs that talk about strength. For example, Jesus Loves Me.

Jesus loves me this I know

For the Bible tells me so

Little ones to him belong

They are weak but he is strong

And you have to show your muscles like this when you sing “strong,” right? Here, show me your muscles!

And how about this one:

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty

There’s nothing my God cannot do (clap, clap)

See, we teach kids about the strength of God, a strength that is not necessarily physical, but a spiritual strength.

We we become Christians, when we make the choice to follow Jesus, one of the most powerful things we have to overcome is to come to terms with is how our weakness is made strong in Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul understood this. He writes about it in the 12th chapter of 2 Corinthians. He writes:

“Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

 — 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

For Christians finding strength in our human weaknesses is a part of the upside-down and backwards world of following Jesus.

When we go through tough things in our lives it exercises our spiritual muscles, sometimes even without us realizing it. Like when I was milking a cow, going through those tough time slowly, over time, builds up those spiritual muscles. We may not be aware of it, and just with physical exercise it takes time, but day by day we become spiritually stronger. It may not feel that way consciously, but it is happening.

And then when something happens in our lives we often find that we are stronger than we think we are. We discover that by patiently waiting on the Lord, by walking through the tough times with Jesus at our side, we have renewed our strength. We can start out walking and not faint, we can run and not grow weary, and before long we find ourselves soaring on wings like eagles.

One thing to remember about this is that it is important to remember the source of that strength. It doesn’t come from ourselves, but from God.

During the past five years here I have witnessed many of you going through some incredibly difficult things in your lives. Some of the things no human should ever have to go through. It breaks my heart to see good people going through such incredibly painful experiences.

I have attempted to minister to many of you going through those tough times, but often as I get in my car and head back to the office or home, I wonder just who ministered to whom. I leave feeling that I have just been in the presence of someone holy, someone who, even though they were distraught and in horrible emotional pain, kept going. They put one foot in front of the other, sometimes taking baby steps. And they got through it. Not over it, but through it, little by little, tiny step by tiny step.

Those people are my heroes. I feel that way because I have witnessed them living beyond the strength they themselves had. I am convinced they were able to get through it only by the strength of God. I have no other explanation other than the intervention of God’s strength.

These individuals are probably not aware of it at the time, but through their weaknesses, through their mourning, through their hurt and pain and sorrow, God has strengthened them. They have walked without fainting, run without growing weak, and will, at some point, soar on wings like eagles.

So my challenge to all of us this week is to look to God for our strength instead of trying to be strong by ourselves. God sent his son Jesus Christ to earth, and it is through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that we receive true strength that enables us to do things not humanly possible.

We may not be aware of the changes slowly taking place in us, but as new creations in Christ over time we become spiritually stronger. We strengthen our spiritual muscles through reading the scriptures, Bible study, prayer, fasting, regular worship attendance, acts of mercy, and by sacrificial giving of our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.” And in doing so, we strengthen our spiritual muscles and are prepared no matter what life throws at us.

Our God is so big, so strong and so mighty

There’s nothing my God cannot do (clap, clap)

Oh, and if you want to increase your grip strength, I highly recommend getting a milk cow. Plus you get some great milk!

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

Advent: Get Set

Advent: Get Set
A Message on Luke 2:1-7
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Dec. 15, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 2:1-7 (NRSV)

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

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In track and field competitions, each race begins with the person called the starter giving three announcements. The first is “Runners to your marks.” There actually are marks on the track for the runners to line up behind. Then the starter says, “Get set,” or just “Set.” And then the third announcement isn’t actually an announcement, but the firing of a starter’s pistol (which shoots blanks, of course).

When we would go to track meets when I was in Junior High I always thought it would be funny to be in the infield right before a race begins, and when the starter pistol goes off clutch my chest and fall to the ground. Luckily, I never did that. Doesn’t sound as funny now that I’m an adult.

As kids we used to shorten that process by saying, “Ready, set, go!”

This advent season we will be looking at the scriptures through that mindset of “Ready, set, go.” Two weeks ago we looked at the first chapter of Luke and explored what it means to “get ready” for the birth of Jesus during the season of Advent. Today we will look at the second chapter of Luke and what it means to “Get Set,” and then on Christmas Eve we will get ready to “go.”

Now in track terminology the term “get set” means for the runners to be still, to be prepared for the next thing, which is to “go.” During “get set,” there is no moving around, no more stretching, no more warming up. It’s time to be still.

Likewise during this period of Advent in our modern world it is important for us to take time to be still, to listen to the still, small voice of God, to escape from the hustle and bustle to remind ourselves the real reason for the season.

In the scripture we read today Mary and Joseph are trying to get still, but having a hard time doing so. Word comes out about a census that is to be taken. This came from the Roman government that occupied the area.

Now when we hear the word “census” we think about that time that happens once every ten years when we get paperwork to fill out that asks all kinds of questions. We think about census workers, some of whose jobs is to go door-to-door getting information on the people that live in the houses. Some of you may have even worked for the census bureau.

But for the Jews in the first century a census meant something that was much different. First of all the Jews considered it against their laws. Also add to that the fact that it was also a method of taxation by the Romans. Each person not only had to be registered but had to pay a tax of sorts as well. This was a way the Roman government got funds to rule over the area.

There was also a rule that each male (sorry women) had to go to the “hometown” of sorts of his family’s lineage so he and his family could not only be counted but also would pay the census tax.

In the scripture we read today we find that the census being called causes difficulties for Joseph and Mary. They are living in Nazareth, way up north in the region of Galilee. But since Joseph is a descendent of the lineage of King David (remember David, the one who gave Goliath a splitting headache?), he is required to travel to a small town south of Jerusalem called Bethlehem. David was born there, and so that’s where he has to go.

The trouble is that Bethlehem is about 70 miles away as the crow flies. That’s not that big a deal for us for us today with automobiles, but that was a long way to walk in the First Century. It is especially a long way to travel if you are pregnant.

Not only that but the Jewish people at the time didn’t travel as the crow flies. Living between Nazareth and Jerusalem were the dreaded and hated Samaritans. (Everybody say “boooooo!) There was such bad blood between the Jews and Samaritans that the Jews would travel out of the way just to keep from having to travel through Samaria. So this added an additional 20 miles to the trip, making it a 90 mile journey one way.

Guesses are that they probably only traveled about 10 miles a day, since Mary was with child. Unless my math is wrong that makes it a 9-day trip. And there were no Dairy Queens, or Buccee’s travel stops on the way. They had to carry all their food and water with them (although they probably replenished their water on the way).

Here’s some Advent trivia for you: nowhere in the Bible does it say anything about Mary riding a donkey. Nope. It only says that Mary and Joseph travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Now donkeys were common beasts of burden at the time, and the scriptures do not exclude the possibility of Mary riding a donkey, but they don’t specifically say it either. If you are like me and appreciate the aches, pains, swelling, and the need for frequent bathroom stops that pregnant women experience, then maybe we want to believe there was a donkey rather than think of Mary walking the entire distance.

I often wonder if Joseph felt like the world was against him. He finds out his to-be wife is “with child” and that he isn’t the father, he has givev up his work so he can travel a long distance on foot, with his pregnant wife, only to have to pay money once he gets to his destination.

It kind of reminds me of that scene from the movie “Young Frankenstein” when Igor (pronounced “EYE-gore”), after experiencing a series of misfortunes with his employer, Dr. Frankenstein (pronounced “FRAHKEN-stine”) , turns to his boss and says, “It could be worse.” “How?” the doctor responds. Igor responds, “It could be raining.” And just as he finishes saying it, you see a flash of lightning and hear a peal of thunder and, of course, it starts raining.

Joseph was probably thinking things couldn’t get worse, but they did. Odds are that it did, indeed rain on them, according to many scholars to point out that their route often has rain along it during that time of year. And then they finally get to Bethlehem and wouldn’t you know it, they don’t have a place to stay.

The Gospel of Luke is the only gospel to tell of the census and the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Luke is also the only gospel to talk about not having any room in the inn. Matthew just says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, nothing about the journey or the inn being full.

Mark and John tell us nothing about the birth of Jesus.

Luke gives us the most information about the original Christmas. Luke gives us the scripture we read today about the journey to Bethlehem and Jesus being born, not in a house, but in a stable, a barn, a place for livestock.

Advent has double meaning. It is a period of preparation, a time for us to prepare our hearts and souls for the birth of the Christ child. But it is also a time to prepare our hearts and souls for Jesus second coming, when heaven comes to earth and Jesus returns in glory.

What are you doing to “get set” not only for Christmas, but the triumphant return of Jesus?

Bethlehem connects with Calvary. The cradle connects with the cross. One leads to the other.

Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem. It wasn’t a straight path, it wasn’t an easy path. It took time, patience, and perseverance, and hope.

Joseph and Mary’s trip reminds me of what Paul wrote in the fifth chapter of Romans: “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Our journey through life is metaphorically similar to Mary and Joseph’s. I don’t know of anyone who has had a straight path in life. Everyone has difficulties at different periods that keep it from being an easy path. Everyone has to, at some point, take a detour.

It may be physical health. It may be mental health. It may be the death of a loved one. It may be financial difficulties. It may be broken relationships. It may be job or career related. It may be trying to find your identity or trying to find your place in the world.

Raise your hand if you have had a straight and easy path as you have journeyed through your life. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

I didn’t think so.

Journeying through life takes patience, perseverance, and hope. It takes faith, knowing that even though you can’t see the future you have the assurance that everything will be okay. Even when we have to detour, even when those plans we make and dream of aren’t what comes to pass, it will still be okay. And it will be okay, because of Jesus.

Jesus birth was extraordinary for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that God puts on skin and comes and lives among us. And God arrives not in a fancy palace, but in a humble stable.

And then that person that is fully God and fully human grows up and gives his life on the cross, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And he does so out of love. And it is that love, that grace, that reminds us that no matter what happens to us in this world, something better is coming.

Christmas is coming. And Jesus’ return is coming.

So my challenge to you today, this third Sunday of Advent, is to prepare not only for the birth of the Christ child, but for Jesus return. Don’t become discouraged by life’s detours, but with faith continue to persevere, knowing that indeed, something better is coming.

Get ready. Get set.

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

Advent: Get Ready!

Advent: Get Ready
A Message on Luke 1:26-38
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Dec. 1, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

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Today marks the beginning of the Christian season of Advent, which is the first season of the Christian calendar. So, Happy Christian Calendar Year! Who’s got the blackeyed peas, collard greens, and corn bread? Let’s celebrate!

And yet we don’t think of Advent as being the beginning of a year, but it is. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin term adventus, which is the Greek translation of the word parousia, which roughly means “coming.”

For Christians Advent is a season of preparation, a period of looking forward, of anticipating and getting ready for the birth of the Christ Child.

In the scripture we read today from Luke we find the angel Gabriel telling Mary about what is going to happen. Mary is shocked, to say the least, and tries to point out the biological impossibility of what Gabriel is saying, but ends up accepting her role and being willing to serve God in a very unique way. She knows she and Joseph have some preparing to do.

I believe it is very unfortunate in our society that we have lost sight of the fact that Christmas is a religious holiday. Instead we are bombarded and overwhelmed with advertisements to shop and to buy. The only message we get in preparing for Christmas is to rush and make sure we buy the perfect presents for our loved ones. The message distorts and misrepresents love, convincing us that people will love us if we buy presents for them. And it’s a lie. A big fat lie. Fake news, if you will. But we believe it.

We believe it so much that we go deep into debt trying to make it happen. According to the InCharge Debt Solutions website it is anticipated that Americans will spend $730 billion (with a “b”) buying presents this Christmas season (based on information from the National Retail Federation). The average American will spend about $925 on gifts, and three out of four people will use credit cards to pay for some or all of those bills.

Say someone spends that $925 on gifts this year. If they make the minimum 2 percent payment on that amount that debt will be paid off in 2026, seven years from now. Not only that, but in addition to the original $925 they will be paying an additional $610 in interest costs, bringing the final total to $1,535! [Source: https://www.incharge.org/blog/how-to-avoid-debt-this-christmas/]

Bah humbug!

No. Advent isn’t about presents. It’s about Jesus. It’s about preparing our hearts and souls for the coming of the Christ child.

Now the liturgical colors we use for Advent is blue, but that is a relatively new development. Prior to that the color was purple, and purple is still acceptable to use. Purple is the color of preparation. Purple is the color of Lent, that period of time before Easter which is also a season of preparation.

Advent is not a time to shop but a time to get ready. People get ready.

If Jesus was coming to your house, what would you do? I’m guessing that you would do some cleaning. You would vacuum the carpet and mop the hard floors. You would fold and put up the clean laundry that has been in the basket in your laundry room that you have been using out of until it’s all gone and that’s when you know to do laundry again.

You would empty the dishwasher of the clean dishes, which you have also been using out of, and then load it with the dirty ones that have been stacked up high in the sink. You would clean the bathrooms real well, scrubbing until that ring in the toilet is gone. You would put out the nice towels, not the ol’ ratty everyday ones with holes in them.

You would go to the grocery store and stock up on food, and you would buy the name-brand green beans, not the generic ones.

You get the idea.

Advent, in a way, is a time for us to clean the house of our souls for the coming of Jesus. We need to repent of our sins and throw them out with the trash. We need to sweep the floors of our habits and scrub clean those habits that move us further away from God instead of moving us toward him. We need to clean the cobwebs of our mind to get rid of those things that make us focus on ourselves instead of others. We need to dust our souls to remove the layers of dirt and grime our society subtly places there day after day, and we need to polish the image that God gives us as his children.

We need to get ready. God comes to earth at Christmas not with great fanfare and publicity, but as a baby child born in an out-of-the-way place to a common, ordinary couple.

Jesus, being God, comes to earth not for selfish reasons, but to put on flesh and walk among us to teach us, to love us, and to die for us. We need to remember that. We need to always be mindful that the birth of Jesus at Christmas leads to the cross at Easter. The prophets of old said it would be, and it came into being at Christmas.

My challenge to you this Advent season is to prepare your heart and soul with the same effort and intensity you would use to prepare your house if Jesus was going to stop by. Respond like Mary, saying “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Let us get ready during this season of preparation by reading the Bible, by daily devotionals, and by keeping the main thing the main thing.

Happy Advent, everybody.

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

Meeting Jesus: The Gerasene Demoniac

Meeting Jesus: The Gerasene Demoniac
A Message on Mark 5:1-20
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 17, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Mark 5:1-20 (NRSV)

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7 and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12 and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.

14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

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Today’s scripture from the Gospel of Mark is somewhat troubling. It portrays a man in a very bad state: mental illness and/or demon possession.

Now in the United Methodist Church we don’t talk about demonic possession very much. And there are some United Methodists that don’t believe that it is real, that it’s only mental illness.

I’m not one of those. I believe that though it is rare, there is such a thing as being demon possessed. I believe that there is evil in this world, and I believe evil forces such as demons exist as well.

Part of the problem is how we define evil and demons. Just yesterday I read an article on Facebook about surgeons performing a double lung transplant on a 17-year-old young man whose lungs were destroyed by vaping. In the article Dr. Hassan Nemeh, the surgeon who led the team of doctors, said this: “What I saw in his lungs is like nothing I’ve seen before, and I’ve been doing lung transplants for 20 years. This is an evil I haven’t faced before.”

So is vaping an evil, a demon? Maybe. Is mental illness an evil, a demon? Maybe.

My personal opinion is that I think that mental illness and demonic possession are two different things. Demonic possession can disguise itself as mental illness, but certainly not all mental illness is demonic in origin.

Sometimes what we think are demons really are not. Back when we were in seminary there was one time when my roommate, the esteemed theologian and all around great guy Tommy Earl Burton, thought demons were after him. Here’s what happened.

One of our other roommates, Wade Lindstrom, had bought an electronic whoopee cushion. This was a modern electronic device, complete with a remote control, that… well… made flatulence noises, if you know what I mean. (If you don’t know what I mean, talk to me later and I’ll explain it.)

One night Wade, being the trickster he is, hid the sound-producing part of the machine under Tommy Earl’s bed. The idea was to wait awhile and then, when Tommy was lying on his bed, hit to remote to make it sound like Tommy Earl was… well… you know…

Well as it turned out Tommy stayed up late working on a paper. Wade forgot about the devise and went to bed and fell asleep. That was all fine and good except this electronic whoopee cushion had a program to remind you that it was on. After a certain amount of time it would make a sound, BRRRRRRP, to remind the owner that it was still on. It did this every 15 to 20 minutes.

Well Tommy Earl finally went to bed. He would just barely be asleep when the electronic whoopee cushion would go off with the reminder that it was on, “BRRRRRP.”

Tommy Earl, in a half-asleep and half-awake state, thought the sound was the sound of demons coming after him. He would wake up and start praying fervently, “Dear Lord Jesus, protect me from evil and remove these demons from my presence…” Then he would fall asleep and then, 15 to 20 minutes later, “BRRRRRRP,” the machine would go off again and the same thing would happen.

Apparently after about the fourth or fifth time this happened Tommy was praying out loud enough to awaken me. “OH DEAR LORD JESUS PLEASE RESCUE ME FROM THESE DEMONS TORMENTING ME!” I realized what was going on and told him, “It’s Wade’s electronic whoopee cushion making that noise. He put it under your bed.”

Tommy Earl got up, found the electronic whoopee cushion, picked it up, opened the door to Wade’s bedroom, and then threw it at Wade, who was asleep.

In the scripture we read today we find Jesus coming face to face with a man who wasn’t dealing with a pesky electronic whoopee cushion, but who was truly demon possessed. I have no doubt about this. The man didn’t live a normal life, but wandered among the tombs and exhibited bizarre behavior.

Now we need to remember that from a 1st Century Jewish perspective the man would have certainly been someone to stay away from. He was considered to be “unclean.” Simply coming in contact with a dead body made one unclean, and so you can see that living and sleeping among the tombs would make him very, VERY unclean, both physically and spiritually.

And the fact that he couldn’t be restrained by shackles and chains indicates that they had actually tried to do that, without success. And it also tells us that in that society, that’s how troubled people were treated: they were chained up.

So this unclean, crazy (literally), semi-naked man comes running up to Jesus as soon as Jesus gets out of the boat. If Jesus touches him, then Jesus will be unclean. And in reality, just being around him could make Jesus unclean. And besides, no self-respecting Jewish person of the day would in any way be associated with someone like the crazy, possessed man.

To quote a Monty Python movie, “Run away! Run away!”

But Jesus doesn’t. Instead Jesus heals the man, sending the demons to a herd of pigs that are nearby.

Now I find great theological significance in what happens here. The fact that there is a herd of pigs shows that in that area was a significant population of Gentiles. As you probably know, pigs are listed among the “unclean” animals in Leviticus and practicing Jews, and also Muslims, still today do not eat pork as a result. As Christians, we have the New Testament, specifically where Peter is told in Acts 10 to get up, kill, and eat. (And thank goodness for that, because I really love bacon!)

If the people in the area were all Jewish, then it would have been useless to raise pigs. It would be kind of like being an organist at a Church of Christ.

So there is a herd of pigs, considered by the Jews to be nasty, unclean, unreligious animals, and Jesus sends the demons into the pigs. But then something interesting happens.

The pigs, about 2,000 or them, rush down a “steep bank” and into the sea, where they drowned.

Here’s the deal: pigs are actually pretty good swimmers. They really are. There’s even a place in the Bahamas known for its swimming pigs. People go there just so they can swim with the pigs. Honestly. Here’s a photo to show you I’m not making this up.

So if pigs can swim then why did they drown? I think it is because of the demons. I think the demons tormented the pigs so much that they drowned themselves in an attempt to get rid of them.

Here’s something else that is significant. Verse 14, “The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country.” The people watching the pigs, which would have been Gentiles, of course, were witnesses to the miracle that Jesus performs. And they go and tell everyone about it, which would mean both Gentile and Jewish people. Gentiles start spreading the Good News about Jesus, and people came to see Jesus, and were astonished to see the demon-possessed man sitting calmly, fully clothed, and in his right mind.

It also brings to mind the parable of the Prodigal Son mentioned in Luke’s gospel. Do you remember what the son was doing after he left home and blew all his money and became destitute? He worked feeding pigs, and the pigs were eating better than he was.

We find that Jesus often pushes against the norms of society at the time. Well, he does more than push against. He often blows them away.

Humans are good at putting people in categories. It happened in the first century and still happens in our world today. We see it in the debates about immigration. One side sees peaceful, loving families trying to enter our country to escape poverty and political oppression. The other side sees criminals and drug cartel members coming and taking advantage of our country. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle, but good luck convincing either side of that.

In Jesus’ time there was a lot of “chosen ones” and “unchosen ones” in society. The Jewish people were the “chosen ones,” as God’s people selected to live in the land of milk and honey promised to Abraham and his relatives. Anyone not Jewish, in other words, Gentile, were not chosen by God. In the view of the Jews, the Gentiles were a lower form of human life. After all, they weren’t the “chosen ones.”

We saw a similar attitude in World War II with the German view of Jewish people. The Nazis considered the Jews to be sub-human, and we know that attitude lead to the deaths of 6 million plus people.

In the 1st Century Middle East, people with mental illness were also considered to be subhuman. They were certainly ostracized. Like those with leprosy, they were shunned, pushed to the edge of society, rejected, and physically and mentally abused. The Gerasene Demoniac was one of those people. And yet when he encountered Jesus, everything changed. He was given value, a purpose.

It’s interesting to note what happens after he meets Jesus. He wants to go with Jesus, to follow him, to become one of his disciples. Jesus tells him no. Instead, Jesus has something different in mind. Jesus tells him: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”

Why would Jesus do this? I think it’s because that’s where they man’s testimony would be the most effective. The people in his hometown will know and remember how he used to be. They know his history, how he has lived all these years. And, in knowing that, when they see him as “normal” it will have a greater impact for the kingdom that it would have with people who had NOT known him.

Sometimes in our lives as Christians we get fired up and want to to great big incredible things for Jesus Christ. We have in our minds what we want to do for Jesus and, if we are truthful with ourselves, sometimes our egos sneak their way into those plans. We want to do great things for the Kingdom, but we want the spotlight to shine on us as we do it. We want others to see just how good of a Christian we are. We are proclaiming, “Look at Jesus, but look at me, too!”

Ironically, the most effective things we can do for the Kingdom are usually the small, ordinary, everyday things we do. Instead of being in the spotlight and proclaiming the Kingdom as a narrative to satisfy our egos, the best thing we can do is to walk humbly with our God. We can, and should, do as Jesus tells the Gerasene Demoniac: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”

I have used this illustration before but I’m going to repeat it today because it really applies to this message. There is a young boy walking along the seashore at low tide. Every now and then he comes across a starfish that got stranded on the beach by the receding tide. When he did, he would stop, pick up the starfish, and gently toss it back into the water.

A older man saw this and, after observing the young boy for several minutes, approached him. “Why are you tossing the starfish back into the ocean? There are thousands of them stranded on the beach. There’s no way you can help all of them. You can’t expect to make a difference with so many of them.”

The young boy didn’t say anything, but reached down and picked up a starfish, tossed it gently back in the water, then looked at the man and said, “I made a difference for that one.”

That’s the way we should be as Christians. We should bring the Kingdom of God to the earth one person at a time. We don’t have to have demons cast out of us or do big dramatic things in order to have an impact on this world, we simply need to bloom where we are planted.

This is a photo I took a while back. I don’t even remember where it was. I was fascinated by the scene, however, as these flowers were growing and blooming in the midst of hard pavement. The flowers bloomed where they were planted.

Likewise we should “bloom” where we are planted. We should show and share the love of Jesus Christ with the people we come into contact with on a daily or weekly basis. Little things for the Kingdom add up over time to become big things.

There is a challenge called the 365 day money challenge. It’s pretty simple. The first day you deopist a nickel, 5 cents, into your savings account. Then, you add $0.05 to your deposit on day two, making that deposit worth $0.10, bringing your total savings to $0.15.

On each subsequent day, you add a nickel to the previous day’s deposit. That means, on day 10, you deposit $0.50. On day 100, your deposit is $5.00. On the last day, number 365, your deposit is $18.40.

So $18.40 is the largest amount you will deposit. That’s as big as it gets. But all those small amounts add up at the end of the year. Any guesses how much you save if you start out with a nickel a day? The answer is $3,339.75. Now I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of money to me!

Work for the Kingdom has the same kind of exponential multiplying affect. Little things we do for Jesus add up over time, building up lives one person at a time but having a profound effect on the Kingdom over time.

So my challenge to you this week is to do like Jesus commanded the Gerasene Demoniac: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”

Create an everlasting impact on the Kingdom not by the big things you do, but by the small, everyday things. Let people cut in front of you in traffic. Hold the door open for someone. Bite your tongue instead of saying negative comments about someone. Delete that snarky social media comment instead of posting it. Tip waitstaff the way you think Jesus would tip them. Live the way Jesus lived, and love the way Jesus loved.

And if you ever buy an electronic whoopee cushion and put it under your roommate’s bed, be sure and turn it off.

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

All Saints Sunday Meeting Jesus: Martha

Meeting Jesus: Martha
A Message on John 11:17-27
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 3, 2019 (All Saints Sunday)
By Doug Wintermute

John 11:17-27 (NRSV)

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

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Today is All Saints Sunday, the first Sunday after All Saints Day, which is Nov. 1.

As a matter of fact, the holiday we just had, normally associated with candy and costumes, gets its name, “Halloween,” from a contraction of “All Hallows Eve,” the day before All Saints Day

In Mexico, especially the central and southern areas, there is a cultural celebration of Día de Muertos, or “Day of the Dead.” According to the always helpful resource Wikipedia, “The multi-day holiday involves family and friends gathering to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and helping support their spiritual journey. In Mexican culture, death is viewed as a natural part of the human cycle. Mexicans view it not as a day of sadness but as a day of celebration because their loved ones awake and celebrate with them.”

As Christians we don’t necessarily believe that our deceased loved ones awake and celebrate with us, but we do have something that we do celebrate: resurrection.

Resurrection means raising from the dead, the restoration of life. Someone died, and yet they are brought back to life through their faith in Jesus Christ.

In preparing for this message I realized something: us preachers, particularly myself, don’t preach on resurrection as much as we should. I think I know why. We preach it at funerals, which is important, but that leads us into a false belief that we have covered the topic pretty well. The problem with that is than many of you in our congregation can’t or don’t attend funerals.

So today, All Saints Sunday, we are going to talk about resurrection.

Resurrection is at the heart of Christianity. I will go so far as to question whether you are a Christian if you don’t believe in resurrection. As we say in the Apostle’s creed,

“I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.”

In the scripture we read today we find that Jesus shows up at Bethany after being informed that his friend, Lazarus, has died. Lazarus is the brother of Martha and Mary, who Jesus also considered as friends.

We usually look at this section of scripture and focus on the fact that Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, even though Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days. Today, however, I want to focus on something Jesus says to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Lazarus being resurrected from the dead foreshadows Jesus’ own death and resurrection. But he proclaims to Martha what will happen after his own death, except he says it in present tense, which means he already has the power of resurrection.

Listen to this paraphrase from The Message: “You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.”

Did you catch that last sentence? “And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.”

This All Saints Sunday we recognize those of our congregation who have died since the last All Saints Sunday. It’s a pretty long list, and there are so many long-time, faithful, members’ names on that list. We miss them. We mourn their passing.

And yet we are comforted because we know that’s not the end of the story. We know about the resurrection of the dead, and that not only comforts us, but it gives us hope and courage for the future. Death does not win. Love does.

So my challenge to you this week is to remember and celebrate that we are a resurrection people! That gives us hope! That gives us joy, not only for ourselves but for all the saints that have gone on before us.

And that gift, that grace, is given to us by Jesus Christ, God’s only son, who willingly went to his death on a cross so that we might have that grace and hope.

So as we mourn those who have joined the church triumphant, we remember the words of the old hymn: “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus we’ll sing and shout the victory!”

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

Meeting Jesus: The Widow’s Offering

Meeting Jesus: The Widow’s Offering
A Message on Luke 21:1-4
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 27, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 21:1-4 (NRSV)

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

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Today as we continue our sermon series, “Meeting Jesus,” we are going to turn to the 21st chapter of the Gospel of Luke and look at a poor widow who gave two “mites,” or two small copper coins, at the Temple in Jerusalem. Now this is also found in the 12th chapter of Mark, but today we’re going to focus on Luke’s account.

Now I am aware that technically the widow doesn’t specifically “meet” Jesus. But Jesus does see her and remarks about her to those around him, so I say that’s close enough.

We need some context, though, as to why Jesus is saying this, and perhaps more importantly, who he is saying it to. If we back up one chapter in Luke we find that Jesus is dealing with the religious leaders of the day who are upset with him because he is bucking the status quo. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Scribes were very much “this is the way we’ve always done it” kind of people, and Jesus was upsetting the religious apple cart.

Chapter 20 begins with Jesus in Jerusalem where he is teaching in the temple. The chief priests, scribes, and elders come to Jesus and try to trap him with questions. They ask him by whose authority he is doing all the things he is doing. He responds by asking them a question about the baptisms John was doing, whether it was of heavenly or human origin. They were afraid to answer, so they didn’t.

Then he tells the parable of the wicked tenants, about how they not only wouldn’t pay the appropriate share to the landowner, but beat and even killed those sent to collect it.

Then the religious leaders send spies to ask Jesus if it was lawful to pay taxes to the emperor. Jesus asks for a coin, asks them whose image is on the coin, and then tells them to give to the emperor those things that belong to him, and to give to God the things that belong to God.

Then some Sadducees come and asked Jesus about resurrection. The Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection, so they had all their arguments lined up to counter him. But he answers them in such a way they are afraid to ask him any more questions.

Then Jesus asks them how David’s son can be the messiah, before completing the chapter with this charge against the religious leaders:

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Luke 20:46-47

It is then that Jesus witnesses the widow placing her two coins in the treasury and commends her for it within hearing of the religious leaders.

Now the scribes were the ones that interpreted the scriptures for the people. We have to remember that printing presses were not available in the 1st Century Holy Land, and the scriptures of the Old Testament were written on scrolls. So the scribes not only kept these scrolls but also interpreted them for the people.

Now some people today, especially the TV preachers, have interpreted the passage of the widow giving her last two coins to mean that people should give all they have to their ministry. They say that if you give everything to them then God will bless you financially, as if God is an investment firm that will provide a great and generous return on your investment.

No. If the love of money is the root of all evil, as Paul writes in 1 Timothy, then why would God try to give us more? Now don’t get me wrong, I think there are blessings received when we give to God, but it is extremely rare that those blessings turn out to be financial.

I think that what Jesus is saying in observing the widow giving her two coins, her last two coins, is the hypocrisy of the scribes who guilted the widows into giving everything they had to the treasury.

Now today is Commitment Sunday, and you may be thinking, “That’s a weird thing to say on Commitment Sunday.” And in all probability our financial secretary, Sarah Hugghins, is probably having a spell of high blood pressure right now, wondering where I’m going with this, but I want to make something perfectly clear: If you are down to your last two cents, don’t give it to the church. Instead come to our food pantry on Thursday (actually see me after worship) and the church will give you some food.

I don’t want to guilt you into giving to the church. Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t give to the church. What I am saying is if you only have two pennies then don’t give them to the church.

If, however, you are not impoverished, and I mean truly impoverished, then I am asking you to give to the church. I am asking you to pray to God and then complete an estimate of giving card and drop it in one of the baskets on the altar rail in just a few minutes.

Why am I asking you to do this? It’s simple, really. We are working on the budget for the church for the coming year. In order to do that we need to have an estimate of giving so we can estimate what the income for the church will be. We then base the expenses of the budget on that estimate.

I think it’s more important this year than in years past. We have lost a lot of faithful saints this past year, either through death or from moving away from Jacksonville. Sarah as estimated how much those people gave, and it comes up to about $23,000. That’s a lot.

To quote that ol’ country song, “Who’s going to fill their shoes?”

Statistics show that for every long term church member lost, it takes five new church members to match that financial level.

The reality is that ministry takes money. The electric bill has to be paid every month. The water bill has to be paid. We have to have insurance on this wonderful facility. We have arguably the best children’s and youth programs in the area, but they aren’t free. Our Adopt-a-School program is making a difference in the lives of West Side Elementary Students as well as teachers and staff. Our food pantry feeds between 50 and 75 families every week.

We have an excellent staff here at JFUMC, but they need to be paid as well. As the Bible says in both Deuteronomy and 1 Timothy, “Do not muzzle the oxen when they are treading out the grain.”

Bottom line is it costs to be the church. It was that way in the first Century, it’s been that way throughout the years, and it’s still that way now.

Giving to the church is a spiritual matter. It is a matter of the heart.

I asked Sarah Hugghins to break down our giving in terms of how many people give how much. Here is a graph that shows that.

Out of 224 giving units, this is how they break down: We have six giving units that give more than $20,000 a year. These six giving units contribute more than 34 percent of our entire budget. (Thank you, by the way!) We have one giving unit that gives between $15,000 to $20,000, five who give between $10,000 and $15,000, two who give between $8,000 to $10,000, 15 who give between $5,000 and $8,000, 28 who give between $3,000 and $5,000, 54 who give between $1,000 and $3,000, and 114 that give between $1 and $1,000.

And we also have 69 people who, unless they give cash in the plates that Sarah can’t count, who don’t give any.

Now I want to be clear that as pastor I don’t know who gives what. That is by my choice. As a matter of fact, that goes against what us pastors are told by stewardship specialists. They say pastors need to know what everyone in the church gives. But the reason I don’t want to know is that I don’t want to even subconsciously treat someone differently when it comes to pastoral care.

So, as you fill out your estimate of giving card please know that I will not see it. Sarah Hugghins, our financial secretary, is the only one that sees them. The only one I see is the one that Pam and I fill out and turn in. (And yes, we do turn one in, in case you are wondering.)

Also be aware that the estimate of giving card does not obligate you by legal contract to give that amount to the church. It is an estimate of giving, and if changes in your financial situation changes happen during the year your estimate of giving can change. We’re not going to send some guy named Guido to track you down in hit you in the knees if you get behind. No. Sarah sends out quarterly statements, and that’s it. No guilt, no pressure.

Let’s talk about terminology for a minute. Let’s talk about tithes and offerings. The Bible tells us to give a tithe of our income. Well, what is a tithe? A tithe is 10 percent of your income. There is some debate as to whether that is gross or net income, which is something you need to decide for yourself. But a tithe is 10 percent.

Offerings are anything above that, those gifts that you give in addition to your tithe.

As Christians we are obligated to support the church with our giving. As United Methodists when we join we make a covenant agreement to support the church with our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.” We don’t get to pick and choose which those we want to do and which ones we don’t want to do. It’s all of them, and that includes gifts, both monetarily and in other ways as well.

Giving is a part of who we are as Christians, as United Methodists, and as members of Jacksonville First United Methodist Church.

So my challenge to you today is to be generous in your gifts to the church. Before you turn in your estimate of giving consider raising it one or two percent. You don’t even have to do the math. Just write “+ 2 percent” beside your estimate. Sarah will do the calculations for you. Help us to continue the legacy that those that have gone before us were instrumental in establishing.

And if you only have two pennies, let me know. I don’t want you to give it to the church. Meet me after church and we will get you some groceries. After all, we are the church.

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

Meeting Jesus: The Boy with Five Loaves and Two Fish

Meeting Jesus: The Boy with Five Loaves and Two Fish
A Message on John 6:1-14
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 13, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

John 6:1-14 (NRSV)

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

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Here’s a little Bible trivia for you today. Of all the miracles Jesus performs in the Bible, how many of those miracles appear in all four gospels?

The answer is one. (If you count the accounts of his resurrection as a miracle of his own doing then it would be two, but most people don’t associate the resurrection with the miracles that Jesus performed.) It’s the scripture we read today about feeding the multitudes with two fish and five barley loaves.

This miracle appears in all four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The version we read today is the one in John.

Now it’s easy to get confused when discussing feeding the multitudes because according to some scriptures it happened twice, not once. In addition to the one we read today, the scriptures in Matthew 15 and Mark 8 include Jesus and the disciples feeding 4,000 people with seven fish and “a few” loaves. In that account the disciples picked up seven baskets full of leftovers. So don’t get confused.

The scripture we read today from John happens right after Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, and gets into a debate with the religious officials who are upset that he did. Jesus tries to convince the religious leaders that he is, indeed, the messiah, but they are stubborn and hard hearted and don’t want to believe it. They just don’t get it.

So Jesus withdraws by going to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but the problem is that large crowds followed him. The man just can’t get any rest. He goes up on a mountain and starts teaching, but the crowd continues to get larger and larger.

Jesus asks Phillip where they are going to be able to buy bread to feed everyone. Now it’s not that Jesus didn’t know the answer, but he was basically testing the disciples and setting them up for what was about to come.

Phillip responds that even six-months wages wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for everyone. Andrew points out the young boy with five loaves and two fish, and that is what Jesus uses to perform the miracle.

Now there are some significant things about this scripture that I think we need to know. First of all the scriptures tell us the boy had barley loaves of bread, not wheat. Barley is a grain that is still grown today. When I think of it I think about Cambell’s soup, but it can also be ground like wheat and used to make bread.

Barley is the earliest grain to mature. Planting and harvest times for grain in the Holy Land are pretty close to what it is here in this part of Texas, believe it or not. The seeds of barley, wheat, oats and other grains are sown usually in November, and then the grain is harvested around April and May. Barley has a shorter life cycle than wheat and oats, so it is the grain that becomes mature first.

I did a little research and found out that it was a tradition in the Jewish community to present an omer, about 3.5 pounds, of the “first fruits” of barley, the first collection of the crop, as a sacrifice at the Temple at Passover. Even if it matured before Passover, it was kept and not eaten until after passover. Likewise the “first fruits” of wheat were presented at the Temple at Pentecost, 50 days after Easter.

So here’s what I think is the theological significance of the scripture we read today telling us what kind of bread it was: Verse four tells us that the Passover was near. That means the barley might have been ripe but that the wheat, unless it was held over from the previous year, was not available.

I propose that the five barley loaves the boy had might not have been for him and his family to eat, but perhaps was made from the first gleanings of the barley and thus was to be presented as a sacrifice. I’m no expert in bread, except when it comes to eating it, but if I was to have to guess I would say that an omer of ground barley, about 3.5 pounds of barley flour, would make about five loaves of bread, which is what the boy had. Now this is speculation on my part and I may be reading too much into it, but I think it makes sense.

So when the boy gives the five barley loaves to Jesus he was still in effect giving it to God as a sacrifice, only instead of giving it to the priest at the Temple he gives it to Jesus, the incarnation of God. This emphasizes the divinity of Jesus Christ as God himself!

Jesus refers to himself as the “bread of life,” and of course he refers to bread as his body during the Last Supper in the Upper Room.

The boy also has two fish. Now when we think of fish to eat we think of fresh fish or frozen fish. What the boy had was probably neither of those two things. Fresh fish doesn’t travel well, so the boy probably had dried or salted fish. Think fish jerky. We have to remember that the people at the time didn’t have refrigeration or the ability to freeze food, so much of it was preserved by drying and/or salting. Drying and/or salting preserved the fish and made it able to be transported.

Now since they were at the Sea of Galilee it could have been fresh, that’s certainly possible, but then we come to the problem of how to cook it on a mountainside.

The fish is theologically significant. One third of the disciples were fishermen. Jesus calls them to follow him, telling them he will teach them how to fish for people. An early symbol for Christianity, when it was against the law, was the fish symbol. It’s still used today. There is even a saying, “You catch ‘em, He’ll clean ‘em.” (Hint: It’s not talking about fish.)

If it had happened in East Texas today we would have gotten gallons of peanut oil and put big pots on propane burners and had us a good ol’ fish fry with hush puppies, fried potatoes, cole slaw, and maybe even some green tomato relish. While that may not be as theologically significant, but it sure tastes good!

So the disciples get the loaves and fish and give them to Jesus. He then asks the people to sit down and then does something he will later repeat as an important part of the last supper: he asks God to bless it.

Now I think it’s important that we don’t skip over this fact. Jesus gives thanks to God for the fish and loaves, and at the Last Supper he gives thanks to God for the bread and the wine. Things always work out better when we ask God to bless something, because God will not bless something that is not good. But when it is good, and when God blesses it, great things happen.

So then they distribute the loaves and then the fishes, and everyone eats (it’s kind of like an “all-you-can-eat-buffet”). Not only does everyone get full, but they have leftovers, 12 baskets full, in fact. But only of the bread. No leftover fish. (It never tastes as good leftover anyway, right?)

There is significance in the number 12 here. After all, there were 12 sons of Jacob that made the 12 tribes of Israel, and there are 12 disciples. The number 12 represents God’s power and authority, completeness.

One more thing I think is important about this scripture we read today: Who is it that has the loaves and fish to begin with? A boy. Not a grownup, not a disciple, not a Pharisee, not a Sadducee, not a Scribe, but a boy. A kid.

Why? I think it’s the same reason that Jesus says not to keep the children from coming to him, because it is to them the kingdom of God belongs. I think it’s the same reason Jesus tell us unless we become like little children we will not enter the kingdom of heaven, or why Isaiah says “and a little child shall lead them.”

Children have hope. They are innocent, curious, and trusting. They have faith and find it easy and quite normal to believe in things they can’t see or understand.

So I think it is significant that it is a child that provides the loaves and fish for the feeding of the multitudes.

And he gave all that he had. It’s kind of like the Widow’s Mite. He didn’t have much, but he gave all of what he had.

I sometimes wonder if in giving the fish and loaves away he worried about getting in trouble at home? Would his parents be mad when he told them what had happened to the two fish and five barley loaves. “We told you to take them to the priest! What happened to them. What did you do with them? Surely you didn’t eat them all yourself, did you? I tell you one thing, if you did you are going to be grounded until the messiah comes, that’s for sure!”

We don’t know, only that he did give. And we are thankful he did.

So, what can we learn from this. What can we take from this ancient experience that is applicable to our modern, digital world?

I think there are a couple of things. The first is that it teaches us not to think in worldly terms.

Phillip, one of the disciples, tried to solve the problem facing them with worldly thinking. When Jesus asked the disciples how they were going to feed the people, Phillip talked about how much money it would take to buy food for everyone. And it was going to be a lot of money!

That’s worldly thinking, not heavenly thinking.

We’re guilty of that same kind of thinking, aren’t we? Our first reaction to a problem is usually a worldly reaction, isn’t it?

“How am I going to be able to afford this?”

“Oh, I can’t wait until I get revenge on ol’ So-and-so.”

“If only I could buy __ then my life would be complete and I would be happy.”

“Why can’t I be as lucky as __? They get all the breaks.”

“I wonder if I can I pay off my Visa bill with my MasterCard?”

You get the idea. How many times in our lives do we turn to God as the last resort instead of the first resort? We try everything in the world to fix it ourselves, but when all that crashes down only then do we take it to God.

It’s kinda like someone having problems with their car, so they get their tools out and tear the engine apart trying to fix it. But they can’t. And so then they have to have the car towed to an auto repair place to have it fixed and everything put back together the way it was supposed to be.

It sure would be more effective to take things to God to begin with. It’s also a lot less stressful.

Think heavenly, not worldly.

Another thing I think we can learn from this scripture is to be willing to give everything to God.

The boy gave all he had to Jesus. He didn’t say, “Hey Jesus, can you make do with just one fish and a couple of barley loaves? How about that? Cause I still need something for myself, you know. I’m hungry. And if you’re going to multiply it anyway it’s just a little bit more of a miracle for you, which is easy for you, being as you’re God and everything, right?”

Here’s a rhetorical question for you: In terms of percentages, how “sold out” are you to Jesus? How willing are you to give him everything, 100 percent?

Do you think about your faith only on Sunday? How often do you read your Bible? Do your actions, the way you live your life, reflect Christian love and charity on Sunday but self-centeredness and meanness the rest of the week?

With regard to your financial giving to the church, do you give God what’s leftover or do you give from your “first fruits”? Do you spend more on “triple, venti, half sweet, non-fat, caramel macchiatos” than you give to God?

And do you give your time and talents to the Lord?

Is Jesus Lord of all your life or just some of it. Maybe 35 percent? Or 45 percent on a good week?

There is a song by Audrey Assad titled, “Everything Is Yours.” The words of the chorus are:

“If everything is Yours
Everything is Yours
If everything is Yours
I’m letting it go
No it was never mine to hold”

Like the boy with two fish and five loaves we need to give everything to Jesus. He realized it wasn’t his to hold. If we are going to call ourselves Christians, if we are going to be disciples of Jesus Christ serious about the great commission to go and make disciples, then we have to be 100 percent in all the time.

So my challenge for you this week is two fold: 1. Don’t think in worldly terms and 2. Be willing to give all you have to Jesus. Jesus willingly gave his life on the cross for us. Let us willingly give to him.

And if you run across a kid with two fish and five barley loaves, you better pay attention to him.

(Artwork: Attributed to Ambrosius Francken the Elder)

Meeting Jesus: Zacchaeus

“Seek and You will Find”
A Message on Luke 19:1-10
Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
By Amber Jones, Associate Pastor

Luke 19:1-10
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a

son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

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Do you remember the Nursery rhyme :

Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see
And when the Savior passed that way
He looked up in the tree
And said, ‘Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I’m going to your house today.

Jesus, near the end of his journey to Jerusalem, is passing through the border town of Jericho. In that town is a man named Zacchaeus who is not just a tax collector but a chief tax ,he is rich. He wants to see Jesus, but because he is short, he cannot see over the crowds, so he climbs a tree. When Jesus arrives at the place where Zacchaeus rested himself on the tree, he calls him down and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home, which simultaneously brings Zacchaeus joy and shame.

For our time here together this morning I want to speak from the subject :

Seek and you shall find.

What is the first thing we do when we Lose something? We go and search for it.

The reason why we go and search for is because that thing that has been lost serves a purpose. You’re not sure where you had it last or what you need to start to do in order to find it but you do it even if you are the size of Zacchaeus. He we in my opinion to extreme measures to search for what seemed to be lost amongst a crowd of people.

But what do we do when we’ve not only lost something in the natural but in the spiritual aspect of life. What do we do to obtain our relationship, or our spiritual connection?

I believe in my sanctified imagination:

Zacchaeus was searching for HOPE!

A little background concerning Zacchaeus. The text offers up some warning sign pertaining to Zacchaeus, things what would offer a glimpse of some of the obstacles this man would face.

Today when we think of tax collectors, or the IRS, we probably do not have a warm fuzzy feeling come upon us.

If we are told we are about to be audited by the IRS, we probably are not feeling too well inside.

There was a great deal of dishonesty that was associated with this practice.

Zacchaeus was a man who would have been despised by his own people, even if he was honest because Zacchaeus was collecting taxes for Rome.

So red flag one, Zacchaeus probably felt alone and rejected.

Being rich is not a crime, but Jesus spoke a lot being rich and how that could inhibit one coming to God because they do not think they had the need.

God does not condemn wealth, but he wants us to not rely on that wealth rather to rely on God.

Imagine living a life where you are despised and forsaken.

Zacchaeus, a man who had it all, yet had nothing. Do you know people who are in that boat?

So here is a man without hope, yet he finds out Jesus is in town. Maybe he can find what he is looking for in Jesus?

Many came to Jesus to see if He would perform a miracle, others came out of curiosity, why did Zacchaeus seek to see Jesus?

I believe he was looking for hope.

Zacchaeus was searching for hope!

So, he knows the route Jesus would have to take, so Zacchaeus runs ahead of Jesus and he climbs a tree, PROBABLY HOPING to reach a low hanging branch.

This year in JUMY we are studying HOPE. Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

And we are encouraging our kiddos that although you cannot see it our faith in Jesus drives our HOPE.

Zacchaeus may have placed his hope in a number of areas, maybe even his wealth, yet something was missing. There was a hole inside of him. What could fill that empty spot in his heart?

How does a person like Zacchaeus seek after that hope? When he is feeling lost and rejected?

So, here is Zacchaeus, he must have looked a little ridiculous, a grown man, a wealthy man, a tax collector sitting up in a tree, hoping for something to change, hoping that HOPE would finally take note of him!

What is Zacchaeus expecting? I think he simply expects to see Jesus and hear Him teach and maybe get a feel for who He is.

BUT, true hope delivers beyond our expectations!

As Jesus approaches the tree in which Zacchaeus is perched, He looks at Zacchaeus and says ZACCHAEUS, YOU COME DOWN, FOR I AM COMING TO YOUR HOUSE TODAY.

He tells Zacchaeus to hurry down from the tree because Jesus said because today it is necessary for me to stay at your house.

The way this statement from Jesus is phrased in the Greek, it means that Jesus considered it part of His mission to go to the home of Zacchaeus!

The word NECESSARY implies that it was mission essential that Jesus does this!

So, Zacchaeus hurries down from the tree and JOYFULLY welcomed Jesus!

My brothers and sisters in Christ I am here to let you know that the Sovereign Lord says in Ezekiel 34:11: “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”

Why did I read that passage? Because it is very important to know that God will provide and look after you no matter the situation.

We are reminded in Jeremiah 1:5

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.

So why would we doubt that God is not here when we need him the most. Before you we formed in the womb The lord knew that you would be in this opposition.

So where are you lord is the question that is resting on your heart. Know that God is always present. Despite your sin that you were forgiven of on that old rugged cross. Rest in the peace that God loves you and is willing to come and visit with you in the time of need. Hear the good news we are all seeking Jesus rather we have a good view or not. Seeking Christ in our every situation is what God has called us to do. Remember whatever circumstance that you may be facing your Destiny requires pain so that God can fulfill his promise within us, Imagine the pain that Zaccheaus was facing after being put in that position he was pushed to go and seek after God. Lastly, our HOPE in Jesus is all we need! Although we can’t see it!

I love this song by Hillsong worship:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name.

Christ alone, cornerstone
Weak made strong in the Savior’s love
Through the storm
He is Lord, Lord of all

Zacchaeus climbed in a tree. How far would you go to search for Jesus? If you seek you will find. In the name of the Father , Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!