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


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

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

45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 8:38-39 says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Meeting Jesus: The Prodigal Son’s Father


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

Luke 15:11-32 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think that’s a normal reaction.

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

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

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

The father represents God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I did,” said the farmer.

“So didn’t he answer you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting Jesus: Peter


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

Acts 2:32-41 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, so maybe something like that.

So what can we learn from Peter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just don’t cut off anyone’s ear.

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

Meeting Jesus: The Roman Guard

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

Acts 16:25-34 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get the picture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let others see Jesus in you.

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


Meeting Jesus: Mary


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

John 19:25-27 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting Jesus: Children


“Meeting Jesus: Children”
A Message on Mark 10:13-16
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April May 5, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Mark 10:13-16 (NRSV)

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

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We’re continuing our sermon series on people whose lives have been changed by meeting Jesus, and today were not focusing on one specific individual but a group of people: children.

Children are creative and smart in ways that adults aren’t. Here are some examples of answers to tests and homework that students have given. (Show slides)

Here’s a brilliant answer that is also correct. “What ended in 1896?” The answer the child gave: “1895.”

“Where was the American Declaration of Independence signed?” Answer: “At the bottom.”

Here’s one that was counted wrong but that I argue is 100 percent correct: “What is the strongest force on earth?” Answer: “Love.”

I love this one. The assignment is this: “You are to assume the role of a Chinese immigrant in 1870 and write a letter home describing your experience.” As you can see the answer is written in Chinese, which is great. I have no idea what it says, and I doubt the teacher did either, but I think it’s brilliant!

One more from a math test. Question: “Bob has 36 candy bars. He eats 29. What does he have now? Answer: “Diabetes. Bob has diabetes.”

While those are funny and accurate answers, there was nothing funny about being a child in the Middle East in the first century. To really understand the significance of the scripture we just read from the gospel of Mark we need to understand what the perception of children that people had in the first century.

Children were important to carry on the family name, especially male children. But beside that they were pretty much viewed as a labor force to help with what people had to do to survive. They could work in the fields, watch sheep and goats, milk goats and cows, help with the nets for fishing, and things like that.

They certainly weren’t fawned over like they are today. Today families often revolve around the children. It would not have been that way in Jesus’ time.

We find that when parents started bringing their kids to Jesus that the disciples tried to prevent it. Jesus was too important, too much of a holy man, to have anything to do with children. It was a waste of his time.

But Jesus viewed it differently. Mark tells us he was “indignant” at the disciples. Other translations say “much displeased” (KJV) or even “irate” (The Message). Those are pretty strong words, but it was a serious matter to Jesus. A very, very serious matter.

“… whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

So what does it mean to “receive the kingdom of God as a little child”?

I like The Message paraphrase of that phrase: “Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”

Sometimes as adults we complicate things to much that the main thing ceases to be the main thing. We get caught up in all the minutiae and the rules and trying to make ourselves look better than others that we miss seeing the forest for the trees.

Children have no problem believing in miracles. They have no problem believing in things they cannot see. Children are not racist and don’t hold stereotypes until they are taught those by adults. Children are joyous, optimistic, inquisitive, willing to dance crazily while not caring what other people think. Children are passionate.

Those are the kinds of things I think Jesus meant when he talked about receiving the kingdom of God.

Today these seven confirmation students have those qualities. I have met with them weekly since January, and they are smart, articulate and passionate, but at the same time asked some theologically deep questions. And today they made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They have received the Kingdom of God.

So my challenge to you this week is to be like children, to be like these confirmation class members. Believe in miracles and things that you cannot see. Don’t be racist and hold stereotypes, but be joyous, optimistic, inquisitive, and passionate. Be willing to dance crazily to however the music and Holy Spirit moves you, not caring what others might think.

And if you ever need help on a test, ask a kid. After all, they’re pretty smart.

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

Meeting Jesus: Blind Bartimaeus


“Meeting Jesus: Blind Bartimaeus”
A Message on Mark 10:46-52
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 28, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Mark 10:46-52 (NRSV)

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

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Today we are beginning a sermon series titled, “Meeting Jesus.” Through this series we will explore people who met Jesus with specific focus being on how their lives were changed by meeting Jesus.

Today we start of in the Gospel of Mark with a person known as “Blind Bartimaeus.”

Here’s what we know about Bartimaeus. He was the son of Timaeus. We know this because the prefix “Bar” means “son of.” Another example would be Bartholomew, one of the 12 disciples.

We know that Bartimaeus is blind. This is a significant challenge even in today’s world, but had much more dire circumstances in the first century Middle East. Because of his blindness Bartimaeus can’t work and has to beg in order to survive. He had to depend on the kindness and generosity of others just to have something to eat.

We know that at one point Bartimaeus had sight. We know this from his asking Jesus, “My teacher, let me see again.” This implies that at one time he had sight, but that he doesn’t now.

There is something else that is important to know about blindness in the first century. If a person was blind it was thought that that person had sinned, and therefore the blindness was punishment from God. And if a baby was born blind, then the baby’s parents must have sinned.

In John 9 the disciples ask Jesus about this. “As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3 Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’” — John 9:1-3

So not only did Bartimaeus face physical hardships because of his blindness, but he also had to deal with the social and emotional trauma of people thinking he was blind because of some horrible sin he had committed.

We know that Bartimaeus is set up on the side of the road outside of Jericho. This would have been a high traffic area, providing him with a large number of people both entering and leaving Jericho to beg from, increasing his odds of success.

Jesus and his disciples and followers are on their way to Jerusalem when they encounter Bartimaeus. They had traveled to Jericho, gone through the town, and were headed to Jerusalem. The very next chapter in Mark’s Gospel tells of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we just celebrated on Palm Sunday.

When Bartimaeus heard the commotion of a large crowd of people coming he asked who it was that was coming. He was told that it was Jesus of Nazareth. Bartimaeus must have heard of Jesus and known about the many things he had done and the teachings he had made. He started shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Now you would think that he would cry out to the entire crowd instead of singling out just one person. He could have cried, “Alms for the poor!” or something similar. After all, with such a large crowd coming by he could have given him a lot of money. The way beggars at the time functioned was by setting up at a high traffic spot, such at the side of the road. Bartimaeus would be sitting on the ground with his cloak spread out in front of him.

Today those asking for money will have a bucket or perhaps a coffee cup for people to place money in, but in those times it was the cloak. People could drop coins on the cloak, which was the heavier, outer article of clothing worn. It acted not only for warmth but also for protection from rain and the elements. As many poor people of the day didn’t have homes or shelters they lived outside in the elements and the cloak provided them their only shelter from the elements.

The cloth material of the cloak would have absorbed the energy of coins dropped onto it, thus preventing them from bouncing off or rolling off to the side. The cloak also made it easy to gather the coins together by lifting up the edges, making it easier for the beggar to collect the coins and put them somewhere safe where they couldn’t be stolen as easy.

But Bartimaeus didn’t ask for money. He didn’t call out to the crowd, but only to Jesus. And when he did he called him the Son of David. Now this isn’t just a casual title, but a very important one. The Old Testament scriptures had said that someone of the lineage of David would rule on the throne of Israel forever. This person, the messiah, would be of the bloodline of King David.

We know that Jesus is a descendent of David. That’s why in the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus’ lineage listed all the way back to Abraham, and in the Gospel of Luke the lineage is listed all the way back to Adam. It was though Joseph, Jesus’ earthly step-father, that Jesus had this lineage.

So Bartimaeus calls out loudly to Jesus, only to be “shushed” by those around him. “Hush, be quiet. Leave him alone. He’s too important to want to have anything to do with you.”

But Jesus does something interesting. He stops. He quits walking. In the NRSV translation we read today it says he “stood still.” This would have meant that the entire crowd that was following him would have stopped as well.

Now the way I read it there seems to be some distance between Bartimaeus and where Jesus stops. Jesus doesn’t speak directly to Bartimaeus, but asks others to “call him here.” It says that “they” called to him, which I think means they passed it down the line. “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

Now what I wonder is if the people telling Bartimaeus to shut up were the same ones that told him that Jesus was calling him. If so I can see them doing it with a bit of attitude, can’t you? I don’t see them joyfully telling him “Take heart; get up, he is calling you,” but more with an attitude of “hurry up. We don’t have all day, you know.”

As we talked about on Palm Sunday Bartimaeus throws aside his cloak before he gets up to go to Jesus. This is very significant. That cloak serves as his tent as well as he collection plate. It would have been very valuable to Bartimaeus, probably the most valuable thing he owned. And yet he threw it aside to go to Jesus.

When he comes to Jesus he is asked a simple question by Jesus: “What do you want me to do for you?”

There are a lot of things Bartimaeus could have asked for. He could have said money, he could have said power, he could have said a place to live and food to eat. But he simply said, “My teacher, let me see again.” That was it. No riches, no list of wishes as if Jesus was a magical Genie who could grant him those wished. He just wanted to see again.

Jesus response was simply, “Go; your faith has made you well.” There was no Benny Hinn swinging of the jacket or placing his hand on his head and shoving him. No magic words. Just simply “Go; your faith has made you well.”

Now this is significant in that Jesus tells Bartimaeus what has restored his sight. “…your faith has made you well.”

We see that several times in Jesus ministry. It is faith that does the healing. In Mark 5 Jesus heals a woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years when she just touched the edge of her cloak. He tells her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

In Luke 17 Jesus heals 10 lepers, yet only one of them returns to thank him. Jesus tells him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

So you see it is a person’s faith that is integral in healing.

But the most amazing thing that I find in the story of Blind Bartimaeus is that last sentence of the scripture we read today: “Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”

Mark’s gospel is known for its use of the word “immediately.” Mark doesn’t wait around, things happen…well… immediately. So Bartimaeus is immediately healed. He regains his sight.

And he does an interesting thing, in my opinion. Instead of jumping up and down and going and telling everyone that he can see again, he follows Jesus. He becomes part of the crowd of followers as Jesus goes to Jerusalem. We don’t know if he goes back and gets his cloak or not. We don’t know if he lays that cloak down for Jesus’ donkey to walk on. I think we can safely assume that he would have been among the crowd who shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.” But in my mind I cannot place him with those who, just days later, yell “Crucify him!”

So what does Bartimaeus teach us that we can apply to our lives today? How did Bartimaeus meeting Jesus change his life?

First, I think it teaches us just how powerful faith is. Bartimaeus receives his sight back because of his faith. I wasn’t his righteous acts. It wasn’t because he was a good person. It was his faith that made him well.

How strong is our faith? I have seen miracles involving faith. Not restoration of sight miracles, but miracles nonetheless.

When I was serving as an associate pastor at Greggton UMC years ago there was an elderly gentleman in very bad health. He was dying, and he knew it. The senior pastor and I went and visited him in the hospital. We prayed over him and then he surprised us. He prayed over us. I can’t recall the prayer word for word but it was one of the most eloquent, thoughtful, and meaningful prayers I have ever heard. He prayed for us as ministers. He prayed that we would continue to share God’s love with others, that we would continue to share the Good News. He prayed blessings on us. And that afternoon he died.

That is the kind of faith I want to have. That is the kind of faith I hope you want as well.

Another thing I think can be learned from this is that we are called to follow Jesus. Bartimaeus, having his sight restored, could have started working and making money to buy a house, food, and all the things he had struggled with. But instead he “immediately” follows Jesus. He leaves his old life behind, becoming one who follows Jesus without regard to the cost.

I’m afraid today we have many who just “sorta-kinda” follow Jesus. If it’s convenient and doesn’t take away from the other important aspects of our lives, and if we can work it into our schedules, then we might follow Jesus. Maybe. Sorta-kinda.

But Jesus doesn’t want–or need–“sorta-kinda” followers. He wants his followers to be all in.

It’s like having bacon and eggs for breakfast. The chicken is “involved” in the making of the eggs, but the pig is fully committed in making the bacon.

Are you more like the chicken or the pig?

Bartimaeus’ life was changed when he experienced Jesus. Not only did he receive the miracle of having his eyesight restored, but he became a follower of Jesus. In the words of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” he once was blind but now he can see. That means spiritually as well as physically. He knows that life without Jesus isn’t much of a life, and a life with Jesus is a life with meaning, purpose, and value. And it is a life that gives us victory over death as well.

So my challenge to you this week is to be a spiritual Bartimaeus. Be thankful for all that Jesus has done in your life, for giving you new life and a way of seeing things that you were blind to before. Now go and follow him. Be all in as a follower of Jesus Christ, not just a “sorta-kinda” follower.

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


Easter Message: “The Living and the Dead”

The Holy Women at the Sepulchre
*oil on panel
*87.6 x 107.3 cm
*circa 1611-1614



“The Living and the Dead”
A Message on Luke 24:1-12
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 24:1-12 (NRSV)

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

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This past Wednesday we loaded up the confirmation students in one of the church vans and drove them over to the cemetery behind the funeral home next door.

Now this may seem like a strange thing to do, but the topic we were studying that day was death and resurrection. So I figured what better place to talk about those things than at a cemetery. And what better time to talk about those subjects than Holy Week!

Death is not something we talk about much in our culture. I grew up on a farm which gave me an advantage in learning about death, in my opinion, because animals sometimes die on farms. Sometimes it’s due to old age, but other times it is due to other factors. We had some cows get struck by lightning. We had a bull get out on the highway and get hit by a car. We had a horse founder and die. And we also raised and processed our own beef, which means… well, you know.

But the first time I experienced the death of someone I knew was when my grandfather died. I think I was 12 years old. It was all so foreign to me. His funeral was at a church but it wasn’t like any church service I had been to before. I didn’t understand it very much and I remember being confused. I had a lot of questions.

The confirmands had a lot of questions Wednesday evening as well. “When someone dies do they instantly go to heaven, or do they have to wait until Jesus comes back?” “It is okay to be cremated?” “If someone is cremated how will their body be raised from the dead?” “What will the resurrection be like?”

Good questions from young minds.We answered and talked about those questions.

In the scripture we read today from Luke’s gospel we find questions about death as well. The women go to the tomb where Jesus was laid only to find it empty. The “two men in dazzling clothes,” or angels, appear. The men ask the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

Being familiar with the Easter story we tend to scan over that bit of scripture and thus miss just how much of an unexpected shock it must have been to the women.

The women had gotten up early in the morning and had gone to the ancient equivalent of a cemetery with the intent of putting spices and oil on Jesus’ lifeless body.

It wasn’t something they could have been looking forward to doing. Just two days before Jesus had been brutally beaten and killed. Nails had pierced his hands and feet. A spear had been thrust in his side. Because he died just before the Sabbath began at sundown on Friday, his body could not be properly prepared for burial in the tomb. It had been a rush job, but the women were thankful to Joseph of Arimathea who had gone to Pilate Friday afternoon and asked him for Jesus body. Joseph did the best he could and put Jesus in a tomb that Joseph had created for himself.

Now the women walked to the tomb to finish preparing Jesus’ body. They were planning on unwrapping the linen cloth that Joseph had put around Jesus’ body, place the ointments and spices on the body, and wrap it back up with the linen cloth.

Now this was significant for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that by doing this they would be “unclean.” In Numbers 19 the Jewish law said that touching a dead body meant a person was unclean for seven days. They would have to go through certain purification rites and have the water of cleansing sprinkled on them on the third day and the seventh day before they once again would be clean. And if they didn’t do this they would be cut off from the people. Pretty drastic, huh?

The women were willing to pay the cost, thought. The were in for a surprise, tough. They went to the grave expecting to see the dead, and instead they encounter the living. They discovered that Jesus had risen from the dead. They were the first humans to hear the Easter message.

As Christians, as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, we are a resurrection people. We are not a people looking for the living among the dead. We are a people of new life, an Easter people.

The problem is that sometimes we don’t act like it. We act like people of the world, not people of Jesus.

Even with our best intentions our focus can drift from heavenly things to the things of our world. Our problems seem to grasp our attention and refuse to let it go. The bills pile up and financial challenges seem like they will overwhelm us. Our health or the health of loved ones become medical problems resulting in test after test, procedure after procedure, prescription after prescription of expensive medicines that may not seem to help.

Or maybe our worldly focus is on relationships that are strained or even broken. Maybe we have been betrayed and our hearts are broken. Maybe the memories of something we’ve done in the past create guilt and continue to affect our present and the future.

Maybe our focus is on money and power and climbing to the top. Maybe our focus is on our work or our careers, taking away time and energy from our families and loved ones.

You get the idea. The problem is that all those things are temporary. All those things are spiritually dead. We look for life, for significance, for meaning, for purpose, where those things cannot be found. We look for the living among the dead.

In 1 John 2:15-17 we read, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”

The worldly things are passing away. Jesus does not.

Matthew 6:19-20 reads, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[a] consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Jesus is not dead. He is alive. That is the very foundation of the Christian religion.

We are a resurrection people. We are an Easter people.

Each Sunday, when we gather as followers of Jesus Christ to worship God, we celebrate Easter. Even during the season of Lent, which just ended, a season of repentance and preparation, Sundays are not counted in the 40 days of Lent, because each Sunday is a “little-Easter.” If one is fasting or has “given up” something for Lent, those don’t have to be observed on the Sundays during Lent. (How many of you who gave something up for Lent are thinking to yourselves, “NOW he tells us!”)

The resurrection is such a big deal to us Christians that we even changed the day we observe the Sabbath. We observe the Sabbath on Sunday because that is the day of Jesus’ resurrection. We are a resurrection people. We are an Easter people.

So my challenge to you this Easter Sunday is to remember that as Christians, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we aren’t just Easter people on Easter Sunday, but every day of the year.

Death has been overcome by the love of God the Father, Jesus his only son, and the power of the Holy Spirit. And this is available to every person who calls Jesus Lord.

Let us not look for the living among the dead. The tomb is empty. Death does not live. Jesus is alive.

Let us live each day remembering that we are Easter people.

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

“Spreading Cloaks”


“Spreading Cloaks”
A Message on Luke 19:28-40
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 14, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Luke 19:28-40 (NRSV)

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

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I want to start out this Sunday, Palm Sunday, by looking at something that has become somewhat of a cultural phenomena: the red carpet.

Now when we hear someone say that they are “rolling out the red carpet” it means that extreme hospitality is being shown to someone important or famous.

If you’re like me your think of Hollywood and the Academy Awards or some other awards show where celebrities pull up in big, fancy cars, get out to the flashes of the paparazzi’ cameras, say a few comments (usually politically oriented or something about how environmentally conscious they are), and then walk into the building… all on a big red carpet.

I did a little digging to find out the origin of the red carpet. It turns out that the first mention of a red carpet comes to us from the ancient playwright Aeschylus in his play, “Agamemnon,” written somewhere around 458 BC.

In this play the title character, Agamemnon returns from Troy. His wife, Clytemnestra, as part of welcoming him back, offers him a red path to walk on. She says,

“Now my beloved, step down from your chariot, and let not your foot, my lord, touch the Earth. Servants, let there be spread before the house he never expected to see, where Justice leads him in, a crimson path.”

But Agamemnon isn’t too sure about it. Knowing that only gods have something that nice to walk on, he expresses a reluctance to walk on it. He says, “I am a mortal, a man; I cannot trample upon these tinted splendors without fear thrown in my path.”

Ironically, the woman who creates the use of the red carpet ends up murdering Agamemnon in the play. Bummer.

So we see the “red carpet” goes back a long ways. (Ironically it wasn’t used for the Academy Awards until 1961.)

Nowadays the red carpet is used for someone special and even then for a special event.

In the scripture we read today from Luke’s Gospel we find people using an ancient equivalent of the red carpet for someone special and for a special event. The people laid their cloaks down on the road ahead of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

Now what exactly is a cloak?

When I was in 5th grade at Cooper Elementary School my teacher was Mrs. Pat Waters. She was a great teacher. I can still remember in the winter time her telling us to go to the back of the room and get our “cloaks” as we were preparing for the end of school. I had never heard that word before but figured out pretty quickly that our “cloaks” were our jackets, coats, and sweaters, but I had never heard the term “cloaks” before.

In Jesus’ time people wore two major articles of clothing: a tunic, which was worn as an undergarment, and a much costlier cloak worn as an outer garment.

The cloak was the much more important of the two. It not only provided protection from the weather, especially in the winter time, but it was used as a kind of tent to sleep under outside. [Source:]

The cloak was so important that in there were laws about that Moses gave the people. In Exodus 22:26-27 we read, “If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.”

We also find a similar law in Deuteronomy 24:12-13: “If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the Lord your God.”

Cloaks were important. Very important.

In the 10th chapter of Mark we are introduced to Blind Bartimaeus. He is a beggar on the side of the road who calls out to Jesus as he hears him walking by. For a beggar, the cloak was spread out in front of them as they sat on the ground. People would toss coins to them that would land on the cloak making it easy to gather the coins together. Plus, being poor, they often didn’t have a house to live in. The cloak was their home.

That’s what makes it even more impressive when Mark’s gospel tells us that Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and goes to Jesus when called. Being healed of his blindness, Bartimaeus will be able to work and make a living. He will no longer beg. He discards his cloak, his most valuable possession, to follow Jesus.

On Palm Sunday people took their cloaks, those valuable pieces of clothing, and placed them on the ground to make path of royalty and dignity for Jesus.

Now there are a couple of things I want us to understand about this. First is the fact that the road was probably not nice and smooth. Today when we hear the term “road” we think of a nicely paved concrete or asphalt surface. They didn’t have those kinds of roads back then. No the occupying Roman forces did construct roads with bricks or cobblestones but they were not like our concrete or asphalt. Most of the roads were dirt or gravel, and they certainly were not like roads today.

Another point about roads back then was that they were not clean. They were traveled by humans and animals, and when you have animals you have… well… what animals leave behind, if you know what I mean.

So, that is something you don’t want to lay your cloak down on. Not only that, but Jesus is riding a donkey. Now our scripture today from Luke says colt, but the other gospels have him on a donkey, so I’m going to go with that. Plus, a young male donkey is a called a colt anyway.

Regardless of the equine species, you sure don’t want a donkey to… how should I say this… you know… on your cloak.

My brother Dalen and his wife attend a huge United Methodist church in the Metroplex. I don’t know if that church still does it, but he told me that in the past on Palm Sunday they would actually have a live donkey in the service. Someone would portray Jesus and would ride right down the center isle on a live, honest-to-goodness donkey.

Being an old farm boy and knowing a few things about livestock, including donkeys, I asked him, “Well, what do they do if the donkey… you know.”

He replied, “It’s not a problem. The donkey wears a diaper.”

“A diaper? As in, well, a diaper?”

“Yep. They put a big ol’ diaper on that donkey.”

Now the scriptures don’t tell us but I think I’m pretty safe in saying that when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem, the donkey did NOT have on a diaper.

Which makes it even more incredible to me that people would lay their cloaks down before Jesus and the donkey as they entered Jerusalem.

So why would they do this? Why would they do such a dramatic thing?

I think in order to understand it we need to have the mindset of the Jewish people in that area at that time. The messiah was promised to be coming. The prophets had written about it and their words were in the ancient scriptures. The area was under the political control of the Romans, a foreign power who used military control to keep the Jewish people in line.

I could see how they would think that the time was ripe for the messiah to come. And this Jesus comes on the scene and does things that no ordinary human could do. He heals the sick, gives sight to the blind (just ask Bartimaeus), the lame walk, the deaf hear, people who can’t talk can talk. He knows the scriptures and stumps the leading religious leaders of the day.

They knew the messiah would go to Jerusalem, the nucleus of Jewish life at the time, and establish a reign that would last forever. This was it! This was the time! Jesus was the messiah! He’s going to drive the Romans out–hopefully by force!–and bring the Kingdom of God to earth!

So the Jewish people, who were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the passover, were very excited about Jesus entering Jerusalem! This was history in the making, and they were going to get to witness it!

So they lay down their cloaks in Jesus path, and they pulled branches off of palm trees (another sign of royalty), and shouted,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John the people shout “Hosanna, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”

So it’s a big celebration.

Now they probably thought it a little unusual that Jesus was riding on a donkey instead of a mighty war steed. After all, a donkey was a beast of burden, a animal of peace. A large horse was an animal of war. So yeah, that might have been a little unusual.

And with us having the advantage of hindsight we know why Jesus chose a donkey. We can see and understand all the ironies of Holy Week, how God chose to save the world in a way much different than humans would have done it.

what can we learn from this? What can the Holy Spirit teach us that is applicable for our lives? After all, we don’t wear cloaks much in Texas.

I think one of the things it teaches us is to be faithful to God in both good times and bad. We don’t want to be like the Jewish people who laid down their cloaks for Jesus’ donkey to walk on one day and then be yelling “Crucify him!” just a few days later. God is still God, even when he does things different than we might be expecting. Being human we can’t see the whole picture, but God can. Let’s give Jesus the red carpet treatment not just when things are good, but during the tough times as well.

Another thing I think it teaches us is to be a people of peace, not war. Now I’m not a pacifist. I want to be, but I’m not. I believe there are times when war must be fought. But in our everyday lives we should strive to be people of peace, not conflict. Forgive the person that cuts you off in traffic. Don’t strike back at the person that embarasses you on social media, even though you want to. When someone breaks your heart don’t let it become a breeding ground for bitterness and anger and resentment. Let it go. Replace it with love, and let love flourish.

Jesus didn’t come to change the world by force, but by love. That’s why he didn’t ride into Jerusalem on a mighty stallion, choosing instead a lowly donkey. He changed the world not by might, but with a servant’s heart that led him to the cross.

So my challenge to you this week is to ask yourself what you are willing to lay down in front of Jesus? Or maybe another way of saying it is this: what are you NOT willing to lay down in front of Jesus? What is your metaphorical cloak, the something in your life that you prize, that you view as so valuable to you that you don’t want to let go of it, much less lay it on the ground before Jesus and let his donkey walk on it. If we are willing to roll out the red carpet for celebrities, who are just humans, what are we willing to do for the King of Glory, Jesus Christ?

Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem leads to the cross, the one he bore for us out of his love for us. Let us follow his example and let love lead.

And if you ever come across a donkey wearing a diaper, let me know. I want to see that.

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

Wesley’s Questions: “Is Christ Real to Me?”


Wesley’s Questions: “Is Christ Real to Me?”
A Message on Colossians 1:24-29
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 7, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Colossians 1:24-29 (NRSV)

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.

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Today we conclude our sermon series “Wesley’s Questions,” based on the 22 questions John Wesley and his “Holy Club” of students at Oxford University asked each other daily. Today’s question that we will explore is: “Is Christ real to me?”

Now at first glance it may seem to be kind of an unnecessary question. After all, Christ should be real to Christians, right?

But I think the reason Wesley uses this question for daily reflection is because it is easy as humans to make Christ just sorta-real to us. I think Wesley wants to know, “Is Christ real to me. Really real?”

There are a lot of people in the world who call themselves Christian who believe in a sorta-real Jesus.

I’m embarrassed to say that some of these are United Methodists. Back in 2002 a United Methodist Bishop in the Chicago area, Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, gave a lecture at a United Methodist seminary in Colorado. In that lecture he said that the virgin birth of Jesus was a myth and not historically accurate. He also espoused that Jesus didn’t really have a bodily resurrection.

In my opinion it sure sounds like that Jesus is sorta-real to Bishop Sprague. Just a nice guy, not different than anyone else, and not divine. Not really real, but just sorta-real.

I don’t believe that was the case with the Apostle Paul, who wrote the epistle (letter) we call Colossians. Here’s The Message paraphrase of the scripture we read today from the first chapter. As I read it listen for ways that Paul believes Jesus is really real:

“I want you to know how glad I am that it’s me sitting here in this jail and not you. There’s a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world—the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church’s part of that suffering. When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God’s way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth.

This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me.”

In our worship services we say creeds. We don’t do this “because we have always done it.” We recite the creeds to remind us that Jesus is really real. These creeds state what we believe as Christians. The Apostle’s Creed, one of the oldest writings we have about Jesus, starts with “I believe…”

The Apostle’s Creed says this about Jesus:

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

The Apostle’s Creed reminds us that Jesus is real. Really real. And that’s why we say it.

Now another aspect of the question “Is Christ real to me?” I think can be perceived by changing just one two-letter word in that question with another two letter word: “Is Christ real in me?”

This goes beyond a belief in the historical Jesus of Nazareth. It goes beyond believing that he crucified for our sins and on the third day rose again. This question gets to where we have faith in a living Christ, alive and present within us at this moment.

If Jesus Christ lives in us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, then the fruit of that presence will be evident in the words we say and how we act.

We know that the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. If the really real Jesus lives in us, then that is the kind of fruit we will bear.

In the scripture we read today from Colossians Paul says, “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

In John 15 we read Jesus saying, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” — John 15:4-5

If Jesus is real to you, and real in you, then you will bear fruit.

Another way that we remember that Jesus is real to us is through participating in the Lord’s Supper. When we come and kneel at the altar we are given real bread, which reminds us of the real, bodily sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. And we are given real wine (well, real grape juice) which reminds us of the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. Real blood, his own blood, shed through tremendous amounts of pain.

(Note: Do you know what blood type Jesus was? “B Saved.”)

So my challenge to you this week is to ask yourself every day, “Is Jesus real to/in me?” Practice those spiritual disciplines like Bible study and reading, prayer, works of mercy, and acts of kindness.

Make sure Christ is not just sorta real, but really real.

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