He Is Born!

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

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Luke 2:8-20  (NRSV)

 

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

 

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

   and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And yet… And yet…

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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



Road Trip

“Road Trip”
A Message on Luke 2:1-7

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Dec. 16, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Luke 2:1-7  (NRSV)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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



Family Tree

Family Tree

A Message on Matthew 1:1-17

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Dec. 9, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Matthew 1:1-17  (NRSV)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

There are so many other examples I could give.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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



Wesleyan Roots: “The New Birth”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The New Birth” #45

A Message on John 3:1-21

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Nov. 25, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

John 3:1-21 NRSV)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

New births change lives.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Hmmmmmm.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Wesleyan Roots: “Scriptural Christianity”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “Scriptural Christianity” #4

A Message on Acts 4:23-31

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Nov. 11, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Acts 4:23-31 (NRSV)

 

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

 

‘Why did the Gentiles rage,

   and the peoples imagine vain things?

26 The kings of the earth took their stand,

   and the rulers have gathered together

       against the Lord and against his Messiah.’

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

A Message on Job 3:17-19

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Nov. 4, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Job 3:17-19 (NRSV)

 

There the wicked cease from troubling,

   and there the weary are at rest.

There the prisoners are at ease together;

   they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.

The small and the great are there,

   and the slaves are free from their masters.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Where the wicked no longer trouble anyone

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

Prisoners sleep undisturbed,

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

The small and the great are equals in that place,

   and slaves are free from their masters.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

   and there the weary are at rest.

There the prisoners are at ease together;

   they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster.

The small and the great are there,

   and the slaves are free from their masters.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Good Steward”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Good Steward”

A Message on 2 Corinthians 9:6-7

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

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (NRSV)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

We can entertain compassion

For a world in need of care

But the road of good intentions

Doesn’t lead to anywhere

‘Cause love isn’t love

Till you give it away, yeah

You gotta give it away

 

As we live

Moving side by side

May we learn to give

(May we learn to give)

Learn to sacrifice

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Use of Money”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “The Use of Money”

A Message on Luke 16:1-13

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 21, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 16:1-13 (NRSV)

 

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 

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In the scripture today from the Gospel of Luke we hear Jesus telling the parable of the “Unjust Steward,” also known as the parable of the “Shrewd Manager.”

 

It’s an unusual parable in that it almost seems that Jesus is justifying bad behavior. The unjust steward gets fired for being crooked, and then he goes around and gives cut-rate prices to those that owe his boss money just so he can suck up to them to give a job later.

 

But then Jesus gets to the gist of the matter: “If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12)

 

Here’s The Message paraphrase: “If you’re honest in small things, you’ll be honest in big things; If you’re a crook in small things, you’ll be a crook in big things. If you’re not honest in small jobs, who will put you in charge of the store?”

 

Jesus sums up the the parable with a bold statement: “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 

Money. You can’t serve God and money. You have to choose, one or the other. You can’t do 50/50 or even 80/20, it is all or nothing.

 

Today we are continuing our sermon series “Wesleyan Roots” by looking at John Wesley’s sermon #50, “The Use of Money.”

 

One of the things Wesley does in his sermon is to dispel a myth, one that is still around today. Some people think the scripture in 1 Timothy 6:10 says that money is the root of all evil. But that’s not what that scripture says. What it actually says is that the love of money is a root of all evil.

 

As I have said before,money itself is not evil. Money can be used to do a lot of great things. Money isn’t evil, but the love of money is the root of all evil.

 

Here’s how Wesley phrases it: “The fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it. It may be used ill: and what may not? But it may likewise be used well: It is full as applicable to the best, as to the worst uses. It is of unspeakable service to all civilized nations, in all the common affairs of life: It is a most compendious instrument of transacting all manner of business, and (if we use it according to Christian wisdom) of doing all manner of good.”

 

He then goes on to give some examples of how money can be used for good: “In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment [clothing] for the naked: It gives to the traveller and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of an husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless. We maybe a defence for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain; it may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death!”

 

So you see, money itself is not evil. It is a person’s attitude about money that makes a difference.

 

Wesley, being a methodical man (and thus maybe why the nickname “Methodist” stuck) proposes three points of advice in his sermon on money.

 

He starts off with this: “The first of these is (he that heareth, let him understand!) ‘Gain all you can.’”

 

Yep, you heard correctly. Gain all you can. Earn all the money you can.

 

Now that might sound a little strange, but hear me out. What Wesley is NOT saying is, to quote the character Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street,” “Greed…is good.”

 

No, not at all.  What he was talking about is to earn all you can but with some caveats. Wesley was very adamant that the money one earned should come from legal and ethical means. He had very specific points about the types of ways to earn money.

 

The first is that people should only work jobs that don’t cost them their physical health. This was especially poignant in Wesley’s time. There were no workplace safety laws, no English equivalent of OSHA or even the EPA. As a result some jobs were deadly.

 

Wesley mentions a few of them: “Some employments are absolutely and totally unhealthy; as those which imply the dealing much with arsenic, or other equally hurtful minerals, or the breathing an air tainted with steams of melting lead, which must at length destroy the firmest constitution.”

 

In the book, “Alice in Wonderland” we are introduced to the “Mad Hatter,” but the term actually came from a description of those that worked in the hat industry that really and truly did lose their minds. Part of the process of manufacturing hats at the time included the use of mercurous nitrate. Prolonged breathing of the mercury fumes resulted in hatters “going mad,” or suffering greatly from mental illness due to the physical damage to the brain.

 

So Wesley believed that a person’s job should cause them mental or physical harm.

 

Point two that Wesley makes about occupations is that one’s work should be be legal and moral. “Therefore we may not engage or continue in any sinful trade, any that is contrary to the law of God, or of our country.”

 

Now you would think that would be a given but then as now there are ways to make money that are… well… illegal and/or immoral. Wesley believed that was not an appropriate way to make money. I agree with him.

 

Point three Wesley makes is that our occupations should not cause harm to others. He was very passionate about this point. One of the things he points out, which still exist today, which he calls “pawn-broking.” Today we call them Pawn Shops. (I hope we don’t have any pawn shop owners here today. If so, sorry!)

 

I was curious so I got online and looked up the maximum annual percentage rate (APR) allowed in Texas for Pawn Shops. I found out that rates vary by the amount of the loan all the way down to 12 percent for borrowing $2,100.01 to $17,500. The rate goes up for smaller amounts, though, with the rate for loans up to $210 for one month being 240 percent. [https://occc.texas.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/interest/pawn-rate-chart-july_1_2017-to-june_30_2018.pdf]

 

Wesley cautioned against hurting others monetarily but also causing harm to their bodies. The first example of this, which should come as no surprise if you know just a little bit about John Wesley, is liquor. “Such is, eminently, all that liquid fire, commonly called drams or spirituous liquors.”

 

Now he thought that liquor for medicinal purposes was okay, but was very, very much against liquor for recreational purposes. “But all who sell them in the common way, to any that will buy, are poisoners general. They murder His Majesty’s subjects by wholesale, neither does their eye pity or spare. They drive them to hell like sheep. And what is their gain? Is it not the blood of these men?”

 

Wow, easy John.

 

In addition to those who sell liquor, he speaks out against “Surgeons, Apothecaries, or Physicians, who play with the lives or health of men, to enlarge their own gain? Who purposely lengthen the pain or disease which they are able to remove speedily? who protract the cure of their patient’s body in order to plunder his substance?”

 

Back in Wesley’s day there was no FDA or AMA or any regulation of the medical industry. Some doctors, pharmacists and surgeons would, unethically and in my opinion, immorally, try to make money off their patients by prolonging their condition or illness rather than curing them in the quickest way possible.

 

As a matter of fact, Wesley was so concerned about this that he wrote a book titled, “Primitive Physic” which contained home remedies for various ailments. It was one of his best sellers and even though he sold the copies at low prices he still made a lot of money off of the book… which he promptly gave away, by the way.

 

So point number one of Wesley’s three point plan with regard to money is to make all you can, honestly, morally, and without causing harm to others.

 

He says, “the second rule of Christian prudence is,’Save all you can.’”

 

Ahhhhh. Saving. John Wesley had some real strong opinions on this subject. “Do not throw the precious talent into the sea: Leave that folly to heathen philosophers. Do not throw it away in idle expenses, which is just the same as throwing it into the sea. Expend no part of it merely to gratify the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life.”

 

In his sermon he lists several ways that people “throw away” money, including fancy food. He also cautions against spending money on fancy clothes and accessories (later in his life he lamented not setting up a dress code for Methodists because of members wearing fancy clothes), on “superfluous or expensive furniture” (See, Pam, that’s why I don’t want to buy a new couch. I’m just trying to be Wesleyan…) , on things that feed our vanity that we use to try to impress our neighbors.

 

He even talks about what things to buy, and not buy, for children. And kids, you’re not gonna like this. “And why should you throw away money upon your children, any more than upon yourself, in delicate food, in gay or costly apparel, in superfluities of any kind? Why should you purchase for them more pride or lust, more vanity, or foolish and hurtful desires? They do not want any more; they have enough already; nature has made ample provision for them: Why should you be at farther expense to increase their temptations and snares, and to pierce them through with more sorrows?”

 

Of course, I think it’s important to point out that Wesley himself never had any children.

 

And at the bottom of all these things NOT to buy is the desire to save the money, instead. Live simply, eat simply, dress simply, and then save the money that you would have spent on these things.

 

As modern-day Americans many of us are not good at saving money. One article pointed out that 40 percent of Americans say they don’t have enough in savings to cover a $400 expense. Others wonder if they can make the minimum payment on their VISA card with their MasterCard.

 

Dave Ramsey has made quite a nice living giving the advice that he admits our grandparents knew and practiced: If you want something, save up your money until you can pay cash for it. If you don’t have the money, then don’t buy it. The result is realizing the difference between purchasing our “wants” and our “needs.” And when we save, we are better stewards of what God has granted us and can, therefore, give to God more generously.

 

So, earn all you can and then save all you can. But Wesley doesn’t stop there. He then comes to the third point about the use of money. “Having, First, gained all you can, and, Secondly saved all you can, Then ‘give all you can.’”

 

“First, provide things needful for yourself; food to eat, raiment to put on, whatever nature moderately requires for preserving the body in health and strength. Secondly, provide these for your wife, your children, your servants, or any others who pertain to your household. If when this is done there be an overplus left, then ‘do good to them that are of the household of faith.’ If there be an overplus still, ‘as you have opportunity, do good unto all men.’ In so doing, you give all you can; nay, in a sound sense, all you have: For all that is laid out in this manner is really given to God.”

 

Now John Wesley didn’t just talk about giving as much as you can, he lived it out as well. John made quite a bit of money in his day, mainly from books he wrote and published. He would have been considered upper middle income. And yet he didn’t live like it. He basically gave everything he had away.

 

He believed in eating only 6 ounces of meat per day. Not per meal, but per day. He took cold baths, purportedly for health reasons, but I strongly suspect there was another reason. In England at that time water was heated by burning coal. If John took cold baths, then he didn’t have to spend money on coal to heat the water and therefore he would have more to give to the poor.

 

As Wesley’s income grew from year to year his standard of living did not. One year he recorded in his journal that he made 30 pounds. His living expenses were 28 pounds, so he gave away two pounds. The next year his income doubled to 60 pounds. He lived on 28 and gave away 32. The next year, he made 90 pounds, lived on 28, and gave away 62. The next year he made 120 pounds, lived on –you guessed it–28 pounds, and gave away 92 pounds! It is estimated that he gave away around 30,000 pounds during his lifetime. When he died the only money he had were a few coins in his pockets and dresser.

 

Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can. It’s pretty simple when you think about it, and very biblical as well.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to take a look at your finances and follow John Wesley’s advice: Earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.”

 

Everything we have is given to us by God, anyway. And Jesus gave his life for us. We are to be good stewards, not unjust stewards. Yes, money can be used for negative purposes, but it can also be used for good. Make the choice to be like John Wesley and use it for good.

 

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

 

Wesleyan Roots: “On Pleasing All Men”

Wesleyan Roots: “On Pleasing All Men”

A Message on Romans 15:1-6

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 14, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Romans 15:1-6 (NRSV)

 

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. 3 For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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This past Thursday I attended a funeral in Mt. Pleasant. The person’s life we were celebrating was named Billy Wayne Flanagan, and indeed it was a life worth celebrating.

 

I got to know Billy Wayne a couple of different ways. First, he was the cousin of Tommy Earl Burton, my roommate for four years at seminary in the “Commuter Dorm.” Tommy Earl and Billy Wayne (yes, their families have a thing for middle names…) both grew up in St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Mt. Pleasant.

 

Billy Wayne and his wife Kristi have attended that church since he returned home to Mt. Pleasant after earning his law degree something like 40 years ago. Not only that, but Billy Wayne played the piano for the church. And when I say “play the piano,” I mean REALLY play the piano! Wow, he was good.

 

Billy Wayne and Kristi were the lay representatives for St. Andrew UMC at Annual Conference every year. Many times the Flanagans and the Burtons and me (and Pam if she was attending) would go out to eat together during Annual Conference.This photo is from one of those times.

 

I also knew Billy Wayne through the Northeast Texas Emmaus Community. He was very active in the community and played piano at more events that I can count. And one time at one of the Emmaus events I played guitar while he played piano. I count that as one of the highlights of my life.

 

To know Billy Wayne was to know an extraordinary person, although being the person he was, he would never admit to being extraordinary.

 

He was extraordinary, though. He always had a smile. It never was about him, but about others. He lived out his faith by putting others before himself.

 

Tommy Earl gave the message at the funeral. He told about something Billy Wayne’s mother said happened when Billy Wayne was just a young boy.

 

Here’s how I remember it. Billy Wayne was about four years old. One hot day the whole family was out working in the yard. After a while Billy Wayne walked from the yard into the house. He was gone for quite a while, so his mother started walking to the house to go check on him.

 

When she got to the door she was met by little Billy Wayne, doing his best to balance a tray with several tall glasses of ice-cold milk on it, one for every person working in the yard.

 

Even from a young age Billy Wayne put others before himself. The huge number of people attending the funeral service, including myself, testified to the fact that Billy Wayne Flanagan lived his faith by living his entire life in the service of others.

 

At first glance the title of John Wesley’s sermon that we’re looking at today, “On Pleasing All Men,” might be perceived as being a message on the tension between serving God and serving what others expect of us, a Godly worldview versus a human worldview.

 

But that is not the case. The scripture that Wesley’s sermon is based on comes from Romans 15:2. The NRSV translates it as, “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.”

 

Or the translation Wesley would have been more familiar with: “Let every man please his neighbour for his good to edification.”

 

It doesn’t take long in reading Wesley’s sermon to find out this sermon is about serving others. Here’s what he says.

 

“We are directed to please them for their good; not barely for the sake of pleasing them, or pleasing ourselves; much less of pleasing them to their hurt; which is so frequently done, indeed continually done, by those who do not love their neighbour as themselves. Nor is it only their temporal good, which we are to aim at in pleasing our neighbour; but what is of infinitely greater consequence, we are to do it for their edification; in such a manner as may conduce to their spiritual and eternal good. We are so to please them, that the pleasure may not perish in the using, but may redound to their lasting advantage; may make them wiser and better, holier and happier, both in time and in eternity.”

 

So, if I understand Wesley correctly, in order to live out this scripture we have to do more than just be nice to others. We have to do things for others that will benefit them not only physically and emotionally, but spiritually as well.

 

One of the traps for us as Christians is doing good for all the wrong reasons. We can’t do good things for others for publicity or recognition. We can’t do good things for others to create a warm fuzzy feeling within ourselves on how good or righteous we are. We can’t do good things for others for a tax write-off. We have to genuinely care for others, for their well being, to have compassion and…well…love for them.

 

In his day Wesley was critical of the writings of others at the time who failed to include the main point of helping others: love.

 

“Many are the treatises and discourses which have been published on this important subject. But all of them that I have either seen or heard were miserably defective. Hardly one of them proposed the right end: One and all had some lower design in pleasing men than to save their souls, — to build them up in love and holiness.”

 

As Paul says, “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.”

 

Wesley even made three points, which he called “directions,” on how to do this.

 

Point 1: “Let love not visit you as a transient guest, but be the constant ruling temper of your soul.” In other words, you can’t just turn love on and off. True love, the kind of love Jesus has, and teaches us to have, is constant. As Christians we should keep practicing love and focusing on Jesus that it becomes the “main thing” in all aspects of our lives.

 

Point 2: “…study to be lowly in heart. Be little and vile in your own eyes, in honour preferring others before yourself.” Now I have to admit that the part about being “vile in your own eyes” is a little disturbing, but I think what Wesley is saying is to not put your own needs and preferences before others. Curb your ego. Less of me, more of thee.

 

Point 3: “…labour and pray that you may be meek as well as lowly in heart.” Be meek. We just don’t hear that much in the world today. Meekness is considered to be a weakness, not a strength. But if we want to love others the way God loves us, we must be meek. It’s actually  strength. And it’s not an option.

 

At the end of the sermon, Wesley gives us a nice summation of what he is saying: “To sum up all in one word-if you would please men, please God!”

 

Now I’m not going to point to ol’ John that he used more than one word, but his point is spot on. To please God we think of others. To please others we live the way God wants us to, there by pleasing God.

 

Listen to Paul’s words as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message: “Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’”

 

If ever there was a great example of selfless service it is Jesus Christ. Talk about putting others before himself! Jesus came to earth and was fully God and fully human. He could have given up on trying to teach the disciples, especially when they got things wrong, but he didn’t. He could have smited down the Pharisees and Sadducees who were upset with him because he was rocking the boat and challenging the status quo, but he didn’t. He could have stopped his arrest, beating and execution on the cross, but he didn’t.

 

He went to the cross because he was thinking of others. He went to cross because he was thinking of me and you. He went to the cross because of love.

 

So my challenge to you this week, brought to you by the Apostle Paul and John Wesley, is to live a life of service to others. Live your life like my friend Billy Wayne Flanagan did, a life of service to others. Live your life like Jesus Christ did, a life of love of God and a love of others.

 

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

Wesleyan Roots: “Patience”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “Patience”

A Message on James 1:2-4

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 30, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 1:2-4 (NRSV)

 

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

 

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Today I’m excited to start our new sermon series that I have titled “Wesleyan Roots” because we are using John Wesley’s sermons as a guide to the scriptures.

 

Most of you know that John Wesley was the founder of Methodism. He lived in England in the 1700s and was a priest in the Anglican Church (Church of England at the time). He and his brother Charles started a student group while in college at Oxford. This group met to pray, read the scriptures, ministered to the poor and those in prison, and hold each other accountable to following Christ. They became known as “The Holy Club” and later “Methodists” because they were so methodical in their efforts. (It was not a term of endearment, by the way, but was a term making fun of the group. Nevertheless it stuck…)

 

John Wesley never left the Church of England but saw the Methodist movement as a reform group within the Church of England.

 

Here’s the way I read the history from that time. The Church of England had gotten kind of high-falutin and snobbish. They were very class oriented and didn’t want the lower classes to be a part of the church. It was pretty much a middle-class-and-up church.

 

Well John Wesley, as well as others like John’s brother Charles Wesley and George Whitfield, couldn’t find in the Bible where the church was only supposed to be for the middle class and up, so they made it their mission to minister to everyone.

 

At that time in England there were a lot of coal miners who worked as manual laborers in the mine. They didn’t get paid much and were among the lower classes of society. And they were dirty. (Mining coal will do that to you.)

 

Well the fine, (self-)uprighteous people of the Church of England didn’t want those dirty, stinky coal miners and their families in their church. Horrors!

 

But the Wesleys and company thought that those people needed to know Jesus and so they did something very controversial at the time: they preached outdoors. They went to where the people were and didn’t wait for the people to come to the church buildings. They would go to the coal mines at the end of a shift find a small hill, and preach the Gospel to the miners, sometimes thousands at at time.

 

John Wesley was very meticulous about keeping written copies of his sermons. He also kept a journal which talked quite a bit about the places where he was run off by an angry crowd or where he was banned from preaching again.

 

He was a prolific preacher and writer. Those who research such things say that he traveled more than 250,000 miles on horseback (not in a car, but on horseback, mind you!) and preached about 40,000 sermons!

 

We have many of those sermons and you can find most of them online for free.

 

The one we are exploring today is based on the scripture we read earlier: James 1:2-4, and is titled simply “Patience.”

 

Now in the NRSV translation of the Bible we don’t find the word “patience” in those scriptures, but the word “endurance.” In the NIV the word used is perseverance. In Wesley’s time, however, the King James Version of the Bible was what was available, being printed in 1611. And this is how James 1:2-4 reads in the KJV:

 

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”

 

So we have three words, but the same concept. Endurance. Perseverance. Patience.

 

Now here’s something I find interesting: the King James Bible uses feminine language to refer to patience. Does that mean women have more patience than men? Hmmmmmm. But that’s another sermon for another time.

 

I preached on patience earlier this year during the sermon series on the fruit of the spirit. If you remember “patience” is number four in the list.  “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.”

 

It was on Father’s Day and the scripture was Psalm 37:7-11. Here is verse 7: “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.”

 

As I said at the time, the problem with praying to God to give you patience is that instead of patience, he gives you the opportunity to practice it. When we pray, “Dear God, give me patience… and give it to me now,” God’s response might be to allow you to be in situations that give you the opportunity to practice being patient.

 

John Wesley took an interesting approach to patience in his sermon by that name. He describes patience as being a virtue of Christians:

 

“We do not now speak of a heathen virtue; neither of a natural indolence; but of a gracious temper, wrought in the heart of a believer, by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is a disposition to suffer whatever pleases God, in the manner and for the time that pleases him.”

 

Wesley kind of runs up and down on patience as you read through his sermon. Here’s an example of what I would classify as down: “We may observe, the proper object of patience is suffering, either in body or mind.”

 

Well, he has a point. If you think of the times when your patience is tested the most it usually involves a bit of suffering.

 

If you are a Texas Ranger fan you probably experienced this year. I’m not saying the Rangers are bad this year… well, actually I am. I checked last night and the Rangers’ record is 67 wins and 93 losses. They are dead last in the American League West standings. Their fellow Texas team, the Astros, are leading the division with 102 wins and 58 losses. The Rangers are only 35 games back of first place. Ouch. I don’t think they are going to make the playoffs.

 

While we talk about being a Ranger fan and suffering it really isn’t. There is some real suffering in the world.

 

One of the things I see in my line of work that combines patience in suffering are medical patients. Someone will be having problems and go in for a test (or several tests). Then they have to go home and wait several days or even a week or more to find out the results of the tests.

 

Those days of waiting are hard, folks. People suffer mentally during that time, some more than others, as they practice patience and wait. I know some tests take time, but often it is a CAT scan for MRI that could re read instantly, but no, patients have to wait for days for the result. (I’ll get off my soapbox now…)

 

But Wesley doesn’t just give the down side to patience, he gives an “up” perspective as well. “One immediate fruit of patience is peace: A sweet tranquillity of mind; a serenity of spirit, which can never be found, unless where patience reigns. And this peace often rises into joy.”

 

Now what’s my kind of patience!

 

That’s the kind I experience when I go fishing. It is said that it takes patience to fish, and I guess that is probably right, but I don’t think of it that way. I met up with Jack Evans this past Friday and we launched our kayaks from his dock on Lake Jacksonville. I only landed one fish, but that was okay. Just being on the water, paddling around, and the weather was cooler… it was just all a “sweet tranquillity of mind; a serenity of spirit,” a “peace” that “rises into joy.”

 

So you see patience is kind of a fickle thing.

 

One of the things that Wesley points out about the patience that involves suffering is that it is tied in close to courage. “And as peace, hope, joy, and love are the fruits of patience, both springing from, and confirmed by it, so is also rational, genuine courage, which indeed cannot subsist without patience.”

 

And Wesley even quotes from 1 Peter to drive the point home.  “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1: 6-7)

 

But the think I find most interesting that Wesley does in this sermon on patience is to connect it to sanctifying grace.

 

Now if you remember in Wesleyan theology there are three expressions of God’s grace. It’s not three different types of grace, but one grace in three expressions.

 

The first is “prevenient grace,” or the grace that goes before. This is where God’s grace is working in a person’s life even before he/she is aware of it. It’s sometimes referred to as the “wooing” grace where God “woos” us.

 

The second is “justify grace.” This grace is when you accept Jesus as your savior. Some people refer to is as being “saved” or “born again.”

 

And then the third expression of grace, the one that Wesley refers to in his sermon on patience, is “sanctifying grace.” This is the grace that happens after you receive Jesus as your savior. It’s what you do after you are “saved.” Being “saved” isn’t the end of the story, but the beginning of living towards what Wesley called “Christian perfection.”

 

Now it’s kind of hard to grasp what that term means. I don’t believe it means “perfection” that means we will never make any mistakes and live perfect lives. I don’t think Wesley means it that way. I think it means being totally focused on God so that everything else in life is seen in God’s reflection. I think that’s what Wesley means by “entire sanctification.”

 

Here is how he ties in patience with sanctification: “But what is the perfect work of patience? Is it anything less than the ‘perfect love of God,’ constraining us to love every soul of man, ‘even as Christ loved us?’ Is it not the whole of religion, the whole ‘mind which was also in Christ Jesus?’ Is it not ‘the renewal of our soul in the image of God, after the likeness of him that created us?’ And is not the fruit of this, the constant resignation of ourselves, body and spirit, to God; entirely giving up all we are, all we have, and all we love, as a holy sacrifice, acceptable unto God through the Son of his love? It seems this is ‘the perfect work of patience,’ consequent upon the trial of our faith.”

 

So, here’s my summation of that: Patience is a virtue that is required as we seek to become more like Christ, as we grow in our faith, and as we seek to do God’s will on earth as children of God. Patience is an integral part of us maturing in the faith. We get better at having patience by practicing it as we develop our faith, especially during those times when we suffer. When our faith is tested it produces patience.

 

Our goal as Christians is to live like Christ as we fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Patience is the catalyst that develops us from where we are today to where we will be deeper in the faith and more like Christ in the future.

 

So my challenge to you this week, brought to you by John Wesley and the apostle James, is to look at patience as a way to deepen your faith. Sometimes patience includes suffering, but it also contains joy. The testing of our faith produces patience.

 

And if you want to practice patience by going fishing with me, just let me know.

 

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