Fruit of the Spirit: “Joy”

 

Note: The photos show artwork created by a young congregation member during the message.

Fruit of the Spirit: “Joy”
A Message on 1 Peter 1:3-9

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 3, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NRSV)

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 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. 8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

 

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Today we continue our sermon series on “Fruit of the Spirit” by examining the second fruit listed in Paul’s list of fruit of the spirit from Galatians 5:22, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

 

So today we are going to look at “Joy.”

 

Now my roommate from seminary, the esteemed academician and noted theologian Tommy Earl Burton, has been known to begin some of his presentations by using PowerPoint to show the congregation a photo of his “pride and joy.”

 

As a matter of fact he is so generous that he has shared that photo with me. Here it is:    (show photo of Pride furniture polish and Joy dishwashing soap).

 

What is joy? And why is listed as a fruit of the spirit?

 

I think of joy as being so happy and excited about something that you feel like you are going to explode. Think of a child who is about to open his/her birthday presents. Think of the spouse and children of a member of our armed forces who see their loved one running to them after serving overseas for a long time. Think of a young couple holding their newborn baby for the first time. Think of me holding up a 12 pound bass that I landed while fishing in my kayak.  (Okay, so that photo is actually of a 2-pound bass that I held up the camera in order to make it look bigger. Let’s just pretend it’s a 12-pound bass, okay?)

 

We each have our own definition of joy, don’t we. A more dictionary definition is “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” Here are some synonyms: delight, great pleasure, jubilation, triumph, exultation, rejoicing, happiness, gladness, glee, exhilaration, exuberance, elation, euphoria, bliss, ecstasy, rapture.

 

You get the idea. And we find can find joy in so many places if we will only look! For example, I had my first tomato sandwich this past week featuring a fresh, red-ripe-on-the-vine, never-seen-a-refrigerator tomato. Two pieces of preferably homemade bread, real cow butter (Yes, I know many people use mayonnaise, but try the butter. It’s better. Trust me on this.), the fresh sliced tomato, and then seasoned with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. Mmmmmmmm, mmmmmmmmm good!

 

Living in the 21st century we often have distorted views of where we find joy. Our society screams at us that we will find joy in purchasing new things. We are told that joy is found in the newer, shinier, things. Now I’m not saying it’s wrong to purchase new things (if you can afford them, of course), but know going in that the joy is short-lived.

 

Last year our whole family upgraded our cell phones. The ones we had at the time were several years old (we keep them way after they are paid for) so we upgraded to the latest and greatest. I got a Samsung S8+. It was awesome after I figured out how to run it. It brought me joy. But now, a year and several months later, I still like it and use it regularly but I don’t have the joy I did when it was brand new. I don’t feel the exuberance that I did when it was new.

 

It is a difficult lesson to learn but true and long-lasting joy doesn’t come from “things.” It comes from knowing who you are and whose you are.

 

Some of the most joyous people I have ever met have also been some of the what the world considers to be the “poorest” people. Some of them lived in very difficult conditions, and yet the joy they had just exuded from them. You wanted to be around them, to get to know them better, and probably subconsciously hoped that some of joy would rub off on you.

 

And it will. Joy is contagious. If you are joyful, those around you will become joyful. Hang out with joyful people, and you will notice that you become more joyful, too! Joy is contagious.

 

The disciple Peter knew about that joy. He writes about it in the scripture we read today.

 

Peter didn’t have a cushy life after deciding to follow Jesus. Peter had good intentions, but his emotions often overrode the rational part of his brain. Peter is the one who drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant when they came to arrest Jesus. Peter is the one who pledged to Jesus that he would stay loyal and true to him to the death, and yet he denied him three times on the night Jesus was arrested and beaten.

 

So Peter knows difficulty. After Jesus’ death and resurrection he became the leader of the apostles and the one to preach on Pentecost. The Jewish people of the time didn’t like him. The Romans didn’t like him. He was persecuted and his life ended when he was crucified in Rome, and even then he insisted on being crucified upside down because he felt himself unworthy to die the same way as Jesus did.

 

So even in the midst of being persecuted Peter writes about, of all things, joy. In giving advice to the other followers of Jesus he writes, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

 

Here’s the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in The Message: “You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.”

 

Laughter and singing. Indescribable and glorious joy.

 

The Bible is a book about joy. The word “joy” is used 267 times in the NRSV translation. That’s a lot of joy! There are so many scriptures about joy. I encourage you to go home, look them up, and read them. Just look in the condordance in the back of your Bible, or go to an online site like biblegateway.com and do a search for “joy.”

 

I think part of our challenge as Christians to fulfill the Great Commission to “go and make disciples” is that when unchurched people see us they don’t see indescribable and glorious joy. They see grumpy bears, they see Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.

 

Who wants that?

 

What they should see in us is Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy doing the happy dance! We should be joyous in knowing that no matter what the world throws at us the power of Jesus Christ can overcome it. Death can’t overpower the joy of the Lord. Cancer can’t overpower it. Financial crises can’t overpower it. Broken relationships with loved ones can’t overpower it. The joy of the Lord is our strength.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to be joyous! As children of the living God, as disciples of Jesus Christ, let our hearts and souls be filled with the joy from knowing that we are not ours, but the Lord’s. Abba Father takes care of us in ways we cannot even imagine, even in–or perhaps more accurately “especially in”–the tough times of our life.

 

Joy doesn’t come from worldly things. It comes from God. Let us “rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.”

 

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

 

Fruit of the Spirit: “Love”

 

Fruit of the Spirit: “Love”
A Message on 1 Corinthians 13

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 27, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

1 Corinthians 13 (NRSV)

 

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

 

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Today we are beginning a new sermon series with the unoriginal and uncreative title of “Fruit of the Spirit.”

 

Now I probably should confess something. I had intended to start this series on Pentecost Sunday, which was last Sunday. But we had scheduled Youth Sunday to be last Sunday, and they already had scripture picked out, tshirts made with the scripture on it, and if you were here you witnessed just how great a service it was.

 

So, we’re starting it a week late. Mea culpa.

 

The reason I was going to start it on Pentecost is because that is when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. We refer to it as the “Birthday of the Church.” And it’s hard to have fruit of the spirit without the Holy Spirit.

 

Paul, who ironically was NOT present at Pentecost, gives us a list of the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

 

There’s a song we sing at church camp to help kids remember the fruit of the spirit. The lyrics go something like this:

 

“The fruit of the spirit’s not a coconut

The fruit of the spirit’s not a coconut

If you want to be a coconut, you might as well hear it

You can’t be a fruit of the spirit

 

Cause the fruit is:

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, Hey!

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

 

What we will be doing today and the next eight Sundays is to examine one of those “fruit” of the spirit each Sunday. And today we begin with looking at the first one listed: love.

 

Now part of the challenge we face in looking at fruit of the spirit is language. The word “love” is a good example of what I mean.

 

I love to fish. I love tacos. I love my wife. I love my daughters. I love God.

 

Now even though I use the same word to describe those relationships, they are not the same. And thank goodness!

 

So what is love?

 

The late C.S. Lewis wrote and entire book on the subject. Titled The Four Loves: An Exploration of the Nature of Love, he divides love into four catagories: affection, friendship, Eros, and charity.

 

Now that is a whole other sermon series for the future (and I encourage you to read the book) but today I want to focus on what Paul says about love in 1 Corinthians 13.

 

Known as the “Love Chapter,” this scripture is often read at weddings. I think it’s a great fit and very appropriate for couples beginning their lives together.

 

He starts out by emphasizing that love should be at the root of everything we do. As humans we applaud achievements. We are still congratulation those who have recently graduated from high school and college. But no matter what we achieve, Paul says it means nothing if we don’t have love.

 

It doesn’t’ matter how eloquent in speech we are, how convincing we can be through the use of language, Paul says that if we don’t have love we’re just making noise.

 

He goes on to say we can be deeply religious but again, if we don’t have love it doesn’t matter. “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

 

I know some people who know the Bible backwards and forwards. They can quote scriptures from memory and beat everyone in Bible trivia. But they have trouble with the love part, which I find ironic because to me the scriptures are ABOUT LOVE!

 

Paul then goes on to say that someone can be very generous and yet if they don’t have love, they’re missing out. “If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

 

Atheists can be altruistic. Satanists can be generous. It’s not enough for followers of Christ to be generous, we have to love or it means nothing.

 

This past week one of our church members heard we were going to be having another baptism this Sunday. They heard the person being baptized wanted to be immersed. They also knew that the “portable baptismal font,” as I call it, which is a water tank, was only four feet long, making it difficult for some people, especially tall ones, to be immersed. (When I baptized Taylor Swinney he’s such a big guy I though for a while I  wasn’t going to be able to get him underwater!)

 

So this person, who insisted on anonymity, approached me and volunteered to purchase a six-foot tank, making baptisms easier on the person being baptized. They didn’t do it for attention. They didn’t do it for a tax deduction. They did it out of a love for seeing people come to Christ and being baptized.

 

After talking about generosity, Paul then begins a list of what love is and what it is not. “Love is patient; love is kind.” Both of those are positive attributes.

 

Now what love is not: “…love is not boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing.” All those are negatives. If you are boastful, arrogant, rude, selfish, irritable, resentful, or happy when bad things happen, then you don’t have love.

 

He finishes up the list with another positive thing that love is: “[Love] rejoices in the truth.”

 

Then Paul uses some verbs to describe love: “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

 

After talking about how love grows as we spiritually mature, Paul concludes with this: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

 

Years ago Tina Turner recorded a song titled, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” in which she sings, “What’s love, but a second-hand emotion?”

 

I hate to break it to Ms. Tina Turner, but love is not a second-hand emotion. And love has EVERYTHING to do with it!

 

This weekend is Memorial Day weekend. While we think of it as a three-day weekend and cooking out and swimming and fun things, it’s important for us to remember that the holiday is to remember those in our armed service who, out of love for their country, made the ultimate sacrifice.

 

Love is important. I think that’s why Paul lists love as the first fruit of the spirit. It’s the most important.

 

In Romans 5:8 Paul writes, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

 

In 1 John 4 we read that God IS love. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”

 

Earlier in the service we had a young man that has accepted the love the God has for us. Dustin was baptized as a public proclamation that he accepts the love God offers to him through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His baptism symbolizes the washing away of sins as well as new birth. He is now a new creation in Christ. And all of it is because of love.

 

So my challenge to you this Sunday is to go and love. In all the you do, in every place at every time of the day, love others the way God loves us and shows us his love through Jesus Christ. Love radically. Love unconditionally. Love even those who hate you. (And especially love those YOU hate.)

 

Love is not just a fruit of the Spirit, it is the most powerful force in the universe. But it isn’t any good if you don’t use. Go and love.

 

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

After Easter: “Go and Make Disciples”

 

After Easter: “Go and Make Disciples”
A Message on Matthew 28:16-20

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 6, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 28:16-20 (NRSV)

 

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

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With the scripture today we’re going to do several things. We’re going to wrap up our sermon series “After Easter” by looking at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew. We’re also celebrating Confirmation Sunday and the decisions our confirmands have made to become followers of Jesus Christ. And as part of that hopefully all of us have reaffirmed our commitments as followers of Christ to fulfill the Great Comission to go and make disciples.

 

This scripture is at the very end of Matthew. This is what Matthew ended his gospel with.

 

Last week Pam and I went and saw the new Marvel movie, “Avengers: Infinity War” I’m not going to spoil the movie for those of you who haven’t seen it, but one of the unique things about the Marvel movies (other than Stan Lee making a cameo appearance in each movie) is that at the very end, even after all the credits have rolled, there usually is a scene or two that gives some hints as to what the next movie is going to be about.

 

I think that’s kind of what Matthew did at the end of his gospel. He gives us a preview of what is to come next.

 

The scripture we read today contains what is called “The Great Commission.” Now don’t confuse “The Great Commission” with “The Great Commandment.” “The Great Commandment is to love God with all that you have and to love your neighbor as yourself.

 

“The Great Commission” is to go and make disciples.

 

The word “commission” has several meanings. As a noun it means a “formal written warrant granting the power to perform various acts or duties.” It also means “a certificate conferring military rank and authority.” In addition, it also means “to act in a prescribed manner or to perform prescribed acts,” as well as “authority to act for, in behalf of, or in place of another” and “a task or matter entrusted to one as an agent for another.”

 

The really cool thing is that all of these apply to “The Great Commission”! (Well, with the exception of the military one, but the way I see it we are soldiers in the army of the Lord.)

 

The young people who were baptized and/or confirmed today were commissioned by the Trinity and by us as members of this church. They repented of their sins, renounced the forces of evil, and made a commitment through their own free will to be followers of Jesus Christ.

 

In doing so they accepted the commission given to every believer of Jesus Christ: to go and make disciples.

 

Now what I think is really cool (and an example of God showing out, if you ask me) is that “The Great Commission” is fulfilled through living out “The Great Commandment.” We make disciples by loving God and loving others.

 

One of the things that has come out of the Vibrant Church Initiative (VCI) process that we have been participating in is to re-emphasize what our mission is as a church. Our mission is to “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Our vision is how we plan to accomplish that, but the mission, the end result, is to make disciples. And the way we make disciples is by going.

 

One of the things I find so fascinating about “The Great Commission” is the first word in that sentence: “Go.”

 

One of my favorite childhood books was Go Dog Go by P.D. Eastman. I don’t know if it was because the word “dog” is only one letter shy of being “Doug” or what, but I loved that book.

 

I think I like it because the Doug… er, uh… dog was always going, always moving, always doing something.

 

I was like that as a kid. If I was a kid today I would probably be diagnosed as hyperkinetic or hyperactive. (Who am I kidding, I probably could be diagnosed that now as an adult.) I was always moving, always doing something.

 

I had a lot of ear infections as a kid and mom would make me stay inside the house. I hated it. Really, really hated it. I thought I was going to go crazy. I wanted to go. It didn’t matter where or what, I wanted to go.

 

“Go” is a verb. Verbs, as you know because you were paying attention during English class, is an action word.

 

My prayer is that these young people who made a commitment to Jesus Christ today are willing to “go.”

 

I pray that they “go” to their friends at school and share the love of Christ with them in both the words they use and the actions they take.

 

I pray that they “go” to their families and live and love with them the way Jesus loves us.

 

I pray that they “go” toward those who society labels as outcasts, and that they are able to convince those on the fringes that there is a God that loves them more than they can comprehend.

 

I pray that they “go” and put the needs of others before their own, that they develop the ability to “pray without ceasing” as they communicate with God through prayer, and that they resist what society tries to tell them is important and instead build up treasures in heaven.

 

Come to think of it, I pray that not just for the confirmands, but for all of us.

 

So my challenge to you today is the same one I offer to the confirmands: GO and make disciples. Be empowered with the Holy Spirit to go and make disciples, not just with people who are like us and that we are comfortable with, but to all of humanity, even those that we might not be comfortable with.

 

The harvest is ready, but the workers are few. Are you ready to be a worker? Are you ready? Let’s go!

 

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

 

After Easter: “Ascension”

 

After Easter: “Ascension”
A Message on Acts 1:3-11

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 29, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Acts 1:3-11 (NRSV)

 

After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The Ascension of Jesus
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

 

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The topic I want to explore today is the “ascension” of Jesus.

 

I want to focus on it because it is so often overlooked, yet I believe it is an integral part of our faith story and something we need to pay more attention to.

 

A lot is said about Jesus’ life. A lot is said about Jesus’ death, which we observe on Good Friday. A lot is said about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, which we celebrate as Easter. But Jesus’ resurrection is not the end of the story. There is more.

 

You may not be aware of it but on the liturgical calendar there is a day called “Ascension Day.” It occurs 40 days after Easter (based on the scripture from Acts that we read today), 39 days from Easter Sunday. It occurs on a Thursday and this year will occur on May 10. (I didn’t want to wait until then to talk about it, though, so my apologies to all those who are sticklers for preciseness with the liturgical calendar.)

 

But how many of us know about that date on the calendar? Not very many. I have to admit that I myself wouldn’t probably realize that it’s May 10 of this year if I didn’t have an app on my Google Calendar program and includes the Revised Common Lectionary readings and liturgical dates on it.

 

I think it means I am like this disciple in this cartoon. (Show cartoon) I have ADD: Ascension Deficit Disorder.

 

So we’re going to remedy that today and talk about the ascension.

 

The word refers to Jesus rising up into the sky, into heaven. Why is this important?

 

Here’s what I think is the bottom line: to prove that he was/is God.

 

We know Jesus was a man. That part is pretty clear. He came to earth as a baby, grew up, was baptized by John in the Jordan River, then went into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and was tempted by the devil.

 

At the end of those 40 days, he began his ministry. He was around 30 years old at the time.

 

He taught, he healed, he performed miracles, he made the religious folks very angry, and eventually was killed by crucifixion. On the third day after he was killed, however, he rose from the grave. (“Ain’t no grave gonna hold my body down…”)

 

After that he appeared to the disciples and many others. On the road to Emmaus he walked with two followers who didn’t recognize him until he broke the bread with them, and then he disappeared. He just showed up behind closed doors with the disciples (except Thomas, who became known as “Doubting Thomas” because he wanted to see to believe). He cooked some breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee for the disciples who had been fishing.

 

So he makes many appearances after his resurrection. So why was the ascension necessary?

 

Here’s what I think. Remember when the disciples are out on the sea in a boat and a big storm is tossing them around? And they look up and see Jesus coming to them walking on the water? Their first reaction is that he is a ghost.

 

Now I don’t believe in ghosts (except for the Holy Ghost) but a lot of people did back then. It could have been argued that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, that it was just a ghost all the witnesses encountered after his death.

 

I think that’s why in the 24th chapter of Luke when the resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples they kind of freak out and think that he is a ghost. Then Jesus asks them if they have anything to eat. They give him some broiled fish and he eats it. Ghosts don’t eat. Jesus ate the fish to prove to them he wasn’t a ghost.

 

In Luke’s gospel right after this happens he leads them out to Bethany, blesses them, and then as he is blessing them he ascends into heaven.

 

In the scripture we read from Acts today we finds several things that happen that are important in relation to the Ascension.

 

The first thing is that there is a specific topic he discusses with the disciples during the 40 days he makes appearances. He speaks to them about the Kingdom of God.

 

So what is the Kingdom of God? I believe it is God’s reign over all the universe. And I believe it is both here and now and also to come. I think that’s why we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” in the Lord’s Prayer.

 

The next thing he tells them is to stay in Jerusalem. Now this was probably not something the disciples wanted to hear. After all, it was in Jerusalem that Jesus was arrested, beaten, and killed. They had to be wondering if the same thing was going to happen to them. But Jesus tells them to stay put.

 

Then he tells them why: the Holy Spirit would come upon them, that they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” This is what we celebrate at Pentecost, which is 50 days after Easter.

 

Then the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” We have to remember that the Jewish people at the time thought the messiah would come in, conquer the Romans militarily, and restore the kingdom of Israel. Jesus rising from the dead must have been convincing evidence that he was indeed the messiah because… Well… Dead men just don’t come back to life.

 

So the disciples are wanting to know when Jesus will kick the Romans out of the country. Here is his response from The Message translation: “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”

 

And that brings up the next thing Jesus tells them. Once they get the Holy Spirit, they are to spread the Word to all of the world. It’s not something they keep for themselves, a little secret only the most righteous are privy to. No. Go tell everyone.

 

And then he ascends into heaven, rising until they can’t see him anymore.

 

Here’s how I think about this. My family will tell you that I love birds and consider myself to be somewhat of an amateur ornithologist. I know the difference between a “Rufus Sided Towhee” and a “Yellow Bellied Sap Sucker.” I am fascinated by birds and love to watch them.

 

One of the most fascinating thing about birds is how they can soar on thermal convection currents. I love to watch hawks catch those thermals and circle around in them, going higher and higher. And at some point they get so high that I can’t see them anymore.

 

I think it was probably something similar with the Ascension of Jesus. Not that he had to use thermal convection currents or that he circled around, but that as he went higher and higher he would become smaller and smaller until he finally goes from just a small speck to disappearing.

 

In the Apostle’s Creed Jesus’ Ascension is an event that we state is an integral part of our faith, a rock on which we base our faith.

 

“The third day he rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

 

The divinity of Jesus reminds us just how much the God of the Universe loves us humans, even though we are sinful. We have in heaven, with God, someone who walked among us, understands us better than we understand ourselves, and loves us so much that he went to the cross for us.

 

This wasn’t just a friend that did this for us. This isn’t a benevolent earthly ruler. This is God himself, the creator of the universe, God who always has been and always will be. The God of all power and might loves each one of us so deeply we can’t even comprehend it.

 

Earlier in the service we had a baptism. A young woman prayerfully made the decision for her to respond to the love that God has shown her through Jesus Christ. Through baptism her sins were forgiven and she became a new person, one of the redeemed, a true child of God.

 

The Ascension of Jesus helps to make that happen. We know that Jesus reigns with the Father from heaven, intercedes for us, and was willing to go to the cross so that all who ask may have their sins forgiven and become reconciled to God.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to remember that the Ascension of Jesus is an important part of the “After Easter” story. Remember that Jesus IS God, one that went to the cross out of his love for you. In response let us love others the way God loved us.

 

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

 

After Easter: “Do You Love Me?”

 

After Easter: “Do You Love Me?”
A Message on John 21:1-19

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 22, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 21:1-19 (NRSV)

 

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Jesus and Peter
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

 

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I find this scripture in the Gospel of John to be beautiful in so many ways.

 

Here’s the situation: It’s after Easter. Jesus has been crucified, died, and was buried. He rose from the dead, surprising everyone, and then started appearing to his followers in different locations and at different times.

 

So the disciples don’t really know what to do about all of this, so several of them go back to their occupations they had before they became disciples of Jesus Christ. They go back to fishing.

 

Fishing was an important economic resource at the time. The fish were salted and dried, which preserved them, and could then be transported and eaten later. Some were eaten fresh, of course, but as you can imagine fresh fish with no refrigeration available doesn’t travel very well.

 

Now how many disciples does it describe in the scripture we read today? Any guesses? There were seven. (Seven is an important number in the Bible.) The scripture says, “Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin (of “Doubting Thomas” fame), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee (which would be James and John), and two others of his disciples (who are not named).”

 

So seven men are in one boat fishing. They are fishing at night, by the way.

 

How many of you have ever been night fishing? Raise your hands. I have, and I have to tell you I don’t like it. The main reason is that you can’t see. And I like to see.

 

Years ago Pam’s dad, James, had a boat and we were camping with them and fishing on Lake Leon out in Eastland County, west of Fort Worth. We went out one night crappie fishing and caught some nice fish. On our way back to the camp, though, we had to go through an area of submerged trees. James was driving the boat and going slow, but all of a sudden we felt the boat lifted up out of the water several inches and then it stopped.

 

We had wedged the boat up in three branches of a submerged tree and it was holding us fast. We were stuck.

 

We tried different things to get it unstuck but it didn’t work. Finally we put the trolling motor on high and we would start at the back of the boat, run quickly to the front, and then stop. Millimeter by millimeter, and after about an hour of doing this, we finally got it unstuck and were able to make it back to camp.

 

We had a spotlight and some flashlights with us but with them we still got into trouble in the dark.

 

I can’t imagine the disciples out at night, fishing in a leaky wooden boat, in a sea known for its sudden, unpredictable storms.

 

The scripture we read today calls it the Sea of Tiberias, but in the Bible it goes by several names: Sea of Galilee,  Sea of Kinneret, lake of Gennesaret, and sometimes just “the sea” or “the lake.” It’s not actually a sea as it has fresh water, not salt water, and it isn’t real huge, either, measuring about 13 miles long and 8.1 miles wide. By comparison, Lake Palestine is 18 miles long and 4 miles wide at its widest. So basically and shorter and wider Lake Palestine.

 

The lake is fed by the upper Jordan river, and the Jordan river also flows out of it as it makes its way south to the Dead Sea.

 

There are a lot of fish in the sea/lake. There are several different species but one is probably familiar to you today: tilapia. This fish is even called “Peter’s fish” in the area because of the scripture from the 17th chapter of Matthew where Jesus tells Peter to go and catch a fish and that he will find a coin in the fish’s mouth to be used to pay the temple tax.

 

Besides the tilapia, the lake contains “biny” fish, a predatory species which feeds on yet another species, sardines. Yes, like the sardines you get in a can at the grocery store. There are also catfish in the lake, but the clean/unclean laws in Leviticus classifies catfish as “unclean” (they don’t have both fins and scales) so they didn’t eat them.

 

More than likely the fish that filled the nets of the disciples was tilapia. It is the only fish in the lake that schools and moves to the shallows when the weather cools.

 

So the disciples have been out fishing for these tilapia all night long and haven’t caught a thing. Now we have to remember, these are professional fishermen, not amateurs. Before following Christ three of them in this group (and maybe four if Andrew is one of the unnamed disciples) made a living by fishing. And if you didn’t catch any fish, not only did you not get paid, you also might not eat.

 

They fish all night, and nothing. Nada. They got skunked.

 

So they are tired, frustrated, and maybe a little irritable as well.

 

Then someone on the shore points out the fact that they haven’t caught anything. Great. Pour salt in the wound, will ya. He then tells them to put out their nets on the right side of their boat.

 

Yeah, like that’s going to work. They had been fishing all night. All the long, dark, night. They fished and fished and fished and tried everything they knew to catch fish and had come up with nothing. What are the odds that putting out the nets one more time, on a specific side of the boat, would be any different.

 

But what did they have to lose? Maybe the stranger knew something they didn’t. So they tried it. And indeed there were fish here. Lots of fish. Big fish, completely filling up the net. There were so many fish, they couldn’t bring the net on board.

 

It’s at this point that “the disciple that Jesus loved,” who most people believe to be John, figures out that the person standing on the shore and giving fishing instructions is Jesus. Peter, every the impetuous one, puts on some clothes, jumps out of the boat, and swims to shore toward Jesus.

 

Now the question could be raised why Peter was fishing naked. Here’s my theory: if you don’t have many clothes, and you want the clothes you do have not to smell like fish, then it makes sense not to wear them while you are fishing. Also, it could have been a very warm time of year, so temperature could have come into play.

 

(Now y’all know that I love to fish. But I promise that no matter how stinky or hot it gets, I will not fish naked. I know that will give you great comfort and peace.)

 

It doesn’t say whether the other six disciples get mad at Peter for abandoning them at a critical moment when they are trying to get their catch to shore, but I wonder that. And I get to thinking that maybe it’s a Mary/Martha kind of moment, that while yes, the large number of fish was important, seeing Jesus was perhaps the greater of the two things.

 

There is so much symbolism in this passage of scripture. The fishermen who became disciples, whom Jesus called away from their nets and who he taught to fish for people, go back to fishing. It is while they are doing this that the resurrected Jesus appears.

 

The fish becomes a symbol of the early Christian church. It still is today. Jesus fed the thousands with a few fish and loaves of bread.

 

So back to the scripture. Jesus is cooking fish over a charcoal fire. Now this is easy to skip over, but I find it fascinating. What is charcoal? How is it made? It’s wood that is set on fire and then extinguished before the fire burns up all the wood. In a way that’s what happened to the disciples, right? They were set on fire when Jesus called them and they followed him, then his death on the cross seemingly extinguished their fire. They didn’t know what to do. And then the resurrected Jesus shows up and rekindles the fire in them and gives them their mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. In other words, to fish for people. And what does Jesus have cooking over the charcoal fire? Fish, of course.

 

But perhaps the most beautiful example of symbolism in the passage comes with the interaction between Jesus and Peter. Jesus asks Peter what seems to be a repetitive question: “Do you love me?”

 

He does this three times. Why the repetition? It doesn’t seem to make sense?

 

But then we remember what Peter did after Jesus was arrested. Peter fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy that Peter would deny him (Jesus) three times before the rooster crowed. And while at the time Peter vehemently argued that he would never deny Jesus, the fact is that he did. And how many times did he deny knowing him?

 

Three. Three times.

 

I am convinced that Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me?” three times as a way of offering forgiveness to Peter, once for each time he denied him. I think that’s why Peter’s response to being asked this a third time is different than the first two: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

 

I think this third time it suddenly hits Peter what is going on. And it probably knocks the spiritual wind out of him. And it probably was painful to realize that Jesus repeating the question three times was in response to Peter’s denying him three times.

 

But it doesn’t end there. It’s also interesting to note the responses Jesus gives to Peter each time Peter replies.

 

“Feed my lambs.”

“Tend my sheep.”

“Feed my sheep.”

 

“Feed my lambs.”

 

I find it to be descriptive of spiritual growth. Lambs are baby sheep. Their nourishment comes from milk. This reminds me of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, “And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food.”

 

This describes those new to the faith. They are not yet spiritually mature but will grow over time, becoming spiritually mature. Those who are spiritually mature are to help brothers and sisters in the faith to become spiritually mature.

 

“Tend my sheep.”

 

To me this describes someone who is past the infant stage. Adult sheep can tend for themselves in many ways, no longer needing to be fed milk. They feed by grazing and can do it by themselves, but they still need a shepherd to “tend” them, to watch out for them, and to lead them to green pastures and “beside the still waters.”

 

In the same way I think that Christians in this stage of spiritual growth are able to practice many of the spiritual disciplines by themselves (daily Bible reading, prayer, tithing, etc.) but still need someone more spiritually mature to “tend” them and encourage them.

 

“Feed my sheep.”

 

Here I think Jesus is referring to the spiritually mature followers, i.e. sheep. He is asking Peter to feed them, signifying the leadership role that Peter is to play in the early church. Also, we must remember one of the major purposes of adult sheep: to make more sheep! Peter, and we, are to feed spiritually mature believers with spiritual food (primarily the Word of God) so that they will then “produce fruit” and make lambs, other disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

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

 

I think one is that for every time we mess up, God offers us forgiveness. Peter denied Jesus three times during a very critical time, and Jesus offers Peter forgiveness three times.

 

In conversations I have with unchurched people I often hear things like, “You don’t want me in church. I’ve done some really bad things in my past life that I’m not proud of.”

 

My response is that God’s church is the very place they need to be. They need to feel the Holy Spirit move in their lives to let them know that when we ask for forgiveness, God gives us that forgiveness. And if God can forgive us, then we can begin the process of forgiving ourselves.

 

As church members we need to make sure we are always welcoming to those carrying heavy burdens. We need to remember that the church is not a shrine for saints, but a hospital for sinners.

 

Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” His response was, “Yes.”

 

But we can also ask God, “Do you love me?” And God’s response is always, “Yes.”

 

“How much,” we often think.

 

“This much,” God replies. (Hold arms out wide.)

 

So my challenge to you this week is to remember just how much God loves us and how willing God is to forgive us–and all his children–of the times we deny him. Peter went on to do great things and to establish what we know as the church.

 

And we can, and should do the same. Let us as disciples of Jesus Christ fish for people.

 

But if you want me to go fish fishing at night, I’m probably gonna pass.

 

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

 

Mary Magdalene with the Resurrected Jesus by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov

 

“He Is Risen!”

A Message on John 20:1-18
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 1, 2018, Easter Sunday
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 20:1-18(NRSV)

 

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

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One day a Sunday School teacher was talking to her elementary-age students about Easter. “Can anyone tell me what Easter is?” she asked the class.

 

“It’s when you get new dresses and shoes and hats,” said one little girl.

 

“It’s when the Easter bunny comes and you hunt Easter eggs!” said another student.

 

“Yes, but what is the REAL meaning of Easter?” she asked.

 

It got real quiet in the room. Then, very slowly, a little boy raised his hand. “Yes, Johnny,” the teacher said.

 

“Easter is when we celebrate Jesus,” he said.

 

“That’s right,” said the teacher. “What do we celebrate about Jesus?”

 

“Well,” said Johnny, “There were some people who didn’t like Jesus, so they killed him. And after they killed him on the cross, they put him in a hole in the ground.”

 

“A tomb,” said the teacher, feeling proud that at least one of the children knew the meaning of Easter. “Go on.”

 

“Well, then, after he’s been in the hole in the ground three days, he comes out at Easter.”

 

The teacher was proud. “That’s right, Johnny, very good.”

 

“Then,” said Johnny, “if he sees his shadow it means that there will be six more weeks of winter.”

 

While this story is humorous, it points out what I think is a very real truth: for many people Jesus rising from the dead is treated as just another fictional legend. It’s just something that isn’t real but that does have entertainment value.

 

The scripture we read today from the Gospel of John tells us about the first Easter morning. Mary Magdelene goes to the tomb early in the morning. Mary was a follower of Jesus who has been the subject of urban myths herself. There are theories that she was a prostitute, that she and Jesus had a baby, and other things that are based more on speculation than on fact or the scriptures.

 

Two of the gospels, Luke and the longer ending of Mark, say that Jesus cast seven demons out of her. All four of the gospels mention her, and she is mentioned 12 times between the gospels. That’s more than most of the disciples get mentioned.

 

It is fact and not fiction that she is an important follower of Jesus Christ. It’s also a fact that early in the morning she goes to Jesus tomb. In John’s gospel she goes alone, while in Mark’s gospel she is one of the “Three Marys” that visit the tomb. (Mary Magdalene, Mary Mother of James, and Mary “Salome”) Matthew mentions Mary Magdalene going to tomb with “the other Mary,” and Luke just mentions “the women.”

 

Mary gets the name “Magdalene” from the town she was from, Magdala. This was a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Mary, or more technically “Mariam,” was a popular name at the time and so often they were referred to also the town they were from in order to differentiate between different Marys.

 

Mary is the one in John’s gospels who is the first to see the risen Jesus. She recognizes him when he calls her by name. Jesus gives her a task, to go and tell the disciples, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” And she does. Her first words to them are, “I have seen the Lord!”

 

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the very tenet of the Christian faith. I don’t think you can be a Christian if you don’t believe this.

 

Over the years there have been many attempts to discredit the resurrection. Jesus wasn’t really dead, only unconscious. Right before he was crucified Jesus switched bodies with someone else. The Roman guards were bribed by Jesus disciples who came in the night and took his body away.

 

To me these theories are no more valid than the groundhog seeing his shadow on Groundhog Day.

 

Jesus was really dead. The Roman guards saw to that. They well well versed in crucifying people, and they knew when they were dead and when they were not. The spear in Jesus side confirmed it. Jesus was dead.

 

But he didn’t stay dead. The huge stone was rolled away from the tomb and Jesus walked out alive. He even tidied up the place a bit before he left, rolling up the cloth that had been around his head.

 

We read these words in scripture, and we believe.

 

The resurrection of Jesus is proof that he is the messiah, the Son of God. And it gives us joy and it gives us hope.

 

Hope because we know because of our faith death does not have the last word for those who believe. No matter what happens to us in this world, we have hope because we are promised that something better is coming.

 

When a loved one dies, we have hope because something better is coming.

 

When the doctor gives us a diagnosis of cancer, we have hope because something better is coming.

 

When relationships disintegrate and our hearts are broken, we have hope because something better is coming.

 

When addictions destroy lives and bodies, we have hope because something better is coming.

 

When our bodies begin to fail as we grow older and pain becomes a daily reminder of our mortality, we have hope because something better is coming.

 

Something better is coming, and we can claim and hold on to that because Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

 

Jesus isn’t dead. He is no longer in the grave. He is risen!

 

So my challenge to you this Easter Sunday is to live boldly, knowing that something better is coming. It’s not a fictional story. It’s not an urban legend. It is fact: Jesus is alive. He is risen.

 

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

Upside Down: “Kings”

 

Upside Down: “Kings”
A Message on John 12:12-16
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 25, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 12:12-16 (NRSV)

 

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
   the King of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
   sitting on a donkey’s colt!”
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

 

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Today we are concluding our sermon series “Upside Down,” which looks at the things of earth that seem upside down from the things of heaven, by looking at the topic of kings.

 

This is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, where Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem riding on of all things a young donkey.  It’s called Palm Sunday because when people heard that Jesus was coming then stripped branches off of palm trees and waved then and put then on the road for his donkey to walk on, and they did this because that’s how they celebrated royalty.

 

The scripture we read today has the crowd shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord–the King of Israel!”

 

Now the history of the people of Israel had with kings was somewhat sketchy. There were only three kings over the united kingdom of Israel: Saul, David, and Solomon.

 

The first, Saul, came about when the people demanded a king. The name Saul, as a matter of fact, means “asked for, prayed for.”

 

Here’s the situation. Somewhere around 1500 BC the tribes of Israel occupy the promised land and yet they don’t really have a centralized form of government. They have the laws that Moses gave them but really no one person in charge like they did when Moses was around.

 

So they have judges. Now when we think of judges we think of legal matters regarding the law, and these people did indeed do that, but they also served as leaders of the people in terms of military and governmental functions as well.

 

But the people didn’t like that. When Samuel the prophet came around they started whining and complaining that they didn’t have a king. Samuel had appointed his sons as judges, but they were evil and didn’t follow God’s ways.

 

So the people of Israel came to Samuel and demanded a king. They wanted a king because all the other countries had kings and they didn’t. I can just hear them whining like a little kid, “We want a king. Everybody else has a king. We want a king.” (I’ve always wanted Samuel to answer them, “Well if the people in every country went and jumped off a cliff would you go and jump off it, too?”)

 

So Samuel prays to God and God tells him to go ahead and give them a king, but to warn them of just how mean and tough the king was going to be on them. So Samuel tells them that this king won’t be nice to them, that he will take away the things they have and make them slaves, but the people don’t listen. They want a king.

 

So Saul is chosen as the first king. And things go pretty good at first, then Saul starts doing mean and evil things just like ol’ Samuel prophesied.

 

David comes on the scene, and Saul tries to kill him multiple times, things like trying to impale him on a spear, stuff like that.

 

Then Saul dies in battle and David becomes king. David does good in the eyes of God until we get to the whole Bathsheba thing and having her husband killed. David repents, but the damage has already been done.

 

Wise Solomon succeeds his father David as king of Israel. He starts off pretty good but then, wise as he is, starts falling away from God.

 

After Solomon the kingdom divides into two separate countries, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Each of them have a succesion of kings. Most of the kings are not good, especially in Israel. Judah has some pretty good kings, like Hezekiah, but then bad kings came along and destroyed all the good the good ones did.

 

So the Jewish people don’t have a very good track record with kings.

 

At the time Jesus walks on the earth the kingdom doesn’t have a king. The land is under the military and governmental control of the Romans, and they appoint governors over the Jewish people but pretty much leave them to themselves as long as they don’t cause trouble. The Pharisees and Sadducees oversee the Jewish people, but do so under the oppressive thumb of the Romans.

 

Throughout the history of the Jewish people, though, they have been waiting on the messiah. The prophets spoke of one who would come and deliver them from being oppressed and who would be their leader. This messiah would change everything.

 

When Jesus enters Jerusalem many of the Jewish people think he is the messiah, he is the one. There is great joy and anticipation on what the messiah is going to do.

 

Most of them probably thought about the messiah more in military terms. He would come in with a great and powerful sword and overthrow the Roman controlwith massive bloodshed and great military victories.

 

But Jesus doesn’t ride into town on a stallion of war, but on a beast of burden. A donkey. A service animal, small but strong, the complete opposite of a war horse.

 

As a matter of fact there is still a breed of donkeys that are called Jerusalem donkeys. They are called that because the pattern of their coat makes a cross on their backs. Legend has it that the cross start appeared on the donkeys after Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem and was crucified. The shadow of the cross fell across the donkey’s back and made the pattern. That’s not true but it is a good reminder of the type of animal Jesus rode.

 

Even though Jesus was on a donkey the people still celebrated! Yes, it wasn’t the kind of entrance they expected, but hey, let’s see what happens! Yay for the King of Israel. Boo for the Romans.

 

But when Jesus doesn’t overthrow the Romans by military force, the shouts of Hosanna turn to shouts of “Crucify Him!,” all in just a few days time.

 

So how should we as followers of Jesus Christ in the 21st century view kings? How should our faith shape our view of “kings,” those who lead countries?

 

In the United States we don’t have a king, we have a president. Some people in this room like him, some people in this room hate him, and some really don’t care one way or the other. I’m not going to get into politics today other than what the Bible tells us about how we should treat our leaders.

 

The scriptures tell us that our top priority is to God, but that we are also to pray for and submit ourselves to those who have authority over us.

 

Romans 13:1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”

 

Now that doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with them or some of the things they do. But we are to be subject to them.

 

“For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.” (1 Peter 2:13-14)

 

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”  (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

 

The world will always have rulers. Some good, some not-so-good, and some just downright evil. That’s the way it has always been, and I’m pretty sure that’s the way it will be until the second coming of Christ.

 

Leaders come and leaders go, but God always remains as our ultimate authority figure. As our ultimate King.

 

Back in the Old Testament, the prophet Daniel wrote these words:

 

He changes times and seasons,
   deposes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
   and knowledge to those who have understanding. (Daniel 2:21)

 

Our world today is so full of shouting about kings. Screaming, actually. Each side tries to scream louder than the other, to be more radical than the other, and the media loves it and counts the money from the ratings. Depending on which side you believe, things are great because of our “king,” or they are horrible because of our “king.”

 

While we are to be subjects to human government “kings” we must remember that  our full loyalty is to the King of Heaven, not an earthly king.

 

We need be upside down from the worldly view.We need be faithful and loyal to King Jesus at all times and at all places and in all circumstances.

 

Let us not be like those in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago who cried out “Hosanna!” one day only to scream “Crucify him!” just a few days later.

 

Jesus, being God, knew that the same people praising him for being the messiah would be the same ones who would call for his death. I wonder how he felt as he rode into Jerusalem that day knowing that.

 

Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem on the way to the cross. Joy turned to pain and sorrow.

 

There is a song by a group called Downhere that has some poignant lyrics with regards to kings. Ironically it is a Christmas song, but I like to listen to it year round.

 

It was written by a member of the group named Marc Martel, and in an interview he gives some of the story behind the song.

 

“My favorite thing about Christmas is that as a believer, I am often challenged by the fact that God’s way of doing things often seems to be the opposite of what we would come up with. Instead of the world’s way of coming down to earth, which would involve celebrity, riches, arrogance, our God and Savior chose humility, poverty and the ultimate sacrifice of dying on a cross hanging between two thieves. This completely humbles me as a believer. I’m amazed at how God uses the mundane to save us from our sin and ourselves.”

 

Here are the words of the chorus:

 

How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that is torn all apart
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me

 

So my challenge to you on this Palm Sunday as we begin Holy Week is to remember who the ultimate king really is. Jesus didn’t ride into Jerusalem in a limousine or on a war horse, but on the humble, hard-working beast of burden, a donkey. He showed the ultimate power of love and humbled himself to die on a cross, although he had every earthly power of kings at his command.

 

How many kings step down from their thrones and give their lives for the salvation of the world?

 

Only one did that.

 

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

Upside Down: “Service”

Upside Down: “Service”
A Message on Matthew 20:20-28
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 18, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 20:20-28 (NRSV)

 

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

24 When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

 

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There is a new television series that doesn’t air over the air or even on any of the cable or satellite channels. It’s called “Returning the Favor” and it is shown on, of all things, Facebook. It features Mike Rowe, former host of “Dirty Jobs” and the narrator of “Deadliest Catch,” who travels the country looking for “do-gooders” (their term, not mine). Mike and his film crew interview them, and then usually leaves them a big check to help with their costs of “doing good.”

 

The episode I watched Thursday had them in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania talking to Carol Stark, known locally as “The Crazy Lady.” She got that nickname because Carol spends her time, and her money, working with the street kids in that county. She works with homeless teenagers, teenagers who have gotten into trouble with the law, ones who have gotten kicked out of school.

 

And she doesn’t just work with them, she teaches them to work. One student talked about how he got in trouble with the law and owed a $5,000 fine. He was homeless at the time and there was no way he was going to be able to pay the fine. Then Carol went to the judge and talked the judge into having the young man work community service instead of paying a fine. (Mike asked the young man how much community service offset a $5,000 fine, and the young man replied, “A lot. A whole, whole lot.”)

 

Carol taught the young man how to work. He had never worked before in his life. She taught him the importance of work, the value of a job well done, and how work can develop self esteem and values.

 

And that was just one teenager. Carol had helped so many teens in that community. Hundreds. No one else in that community cared about these teenagers, but Carol did.

 

I bring up Carol as an example of service to others because we are continuing our sermon series “Upside Down” by looking at the topic of service today.

 

Today’s scripture from Matthew’s Gospel intrigues me in a couple of aspects. The first is that the disciples were being so competitive at… well… being disciples. There was one-upmanship going on among the twelve, pushing and jockeying for positioning about who was better than who.

 

It’s like elementary kids competing for who will be first in line. At Mini-Methodists on Wednesday the adult volunteers usually will alternate on who gets off of the bus or the people mover first. Last rows first, or first rows first. And the kids have figured this out, so when they get on the bus they choose their seats based on who they think will get off the bus first. (They hate it when I drive or ride because I will tell them “the middle” or the opposite of what they are expecting.)

 

Why is it in our human nature to be so competitive? And you would think of all people that the disciples wouldn’t have the problem, but they did.

 

Now here’s the thing I find humorous about today’s scripture. James and John are the sons of Zebedee who leave their father’s fishing boat to follow Jesus. Now it’s not the disciples themselves who approach Jesus asking that they be selected as better disciples than all the rest, but it’s their mother! It’s their mom!

 

These are grown men and yet here comes mom (I can just see her tugging on James’ earlobe to come on) asking Jesus to place her sons over the other disciples.

 

What I wonder is if it was James and John’s idea for mom to approach Jesus and ask him the question, or if it was mom’s idea? Was she wanting a bumper sticker to put on her donkey that said “My sons sit at the right and left hand of Jesus.” Was it her idea to do it so that she could have bragging rights about her kids?

 

Or was it the brothers’ idea to have mom approach Jesus and ask him because they were either two scared to do it themselves or thought that mom would increase their chances of being the “chosen ones.”

 

The great thing about the situation is Jesus’ response. Now I often wonder if he did this: (show photo of Jesus doing a facepalm). We don’t know if he rolled his eyes or did a facepalm or not, but we do know that his response was that the positions of prestige were not his to give, but his father’s.

 

Word gets back to the other 10 disciples about what ol’ James and John tried to do, and as expected they get pretty ticked about it. But then Jesus uses the moment to do a little teaching. “…whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

 

This had to be so upside down, so different from worldly thinking, the disciples had to go, “Say what?”

 

It’s track season now. Jesus is saying that instead of giving the trophies and honors to the athletes that finish first, give it to the person that crosses the line last. Can you hear the announcer over the PA system, “… And in last place in the 1500 meter dash, with a time of 2 hours, 13 minutes, and 43 seconds, John James from Zebedee High School.”?

 

It doesn’t make sense, does it? Not from our worldly thinking, no. But when it comes to serving others, it makes perfect sense in heavenly thinking.

 

The last shall be first. The meek will inherit the earth. The greatest will be a servant. The first will be a slave.

 

Jesus said he came “not to be served but to serve.” As Christians, as followers of Jesus, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to do the same. We shouldn’t seek to be served, but should seek to serve.

 

My late mom not only believed this but she also lived it. There were eight of us in the family (6 kids and 2 adults) so mom had to cook a lot of food. When we would have fried chicken she would cut up and fry three chickens. (For you young folks, chicken didn’t always come already cut up.) Mom always chose what she called the “boney” pieces, the back and ribs and necks. She said it was because that’s what she liked, but I’m pretty sure she chose those so that her family could enjoy the more premium pieces of chicken. She put our needs before her own.

 

As Christians today, how are we living out servant leadership? How are we walking in the Jesus Way of seeking not to be served, but to serve? How many of us are sitting at the table waiting to eat instead of getting up, giving others our seats, and being servants and serving the Bread of Lifo to them?

 

It’s hard to be a servant in today’s world. We have become such a consumeristic society that even subconsciously we view the world in terms of what can benefit us, not how we can benefit others.

 

It has even infiltrated religion. We come to church with an attitude to get, not to give. We come looking to be fed, to see what we can get out of it, what’s in it for “me.” When we do we miss that worship is giving to God and giving to others, and that it is through giving that we receive, that we are fed.

 

We look inward in the church, instead of looking outward toward those in our community who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

To me on of the most beautiful acts Jesus did with his disciples is when he washed their feet. Found in the 13th chapter of John’s gospel, this act of service is so humbling, so condescending and self-effacing, that it’s hard for us to really wrap our minds around it.

 

The job of foot washing at that time in history was given to whoever was lowest on the social pecking order. Usually a slave or a servant, there was no prestige in washing the feet of people who wore sandals and walked around on gravel and dirt all day.

 

And yet that’s what Jesus himself does at the Last Supper. He washes the feet of his disciples, even the feet of Judas, the one he knows will betray him.

 

And then he gives them this command: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

 

Servanthood. It’s an integral part of being a Christian. Jesus came to be a servant, and was a servant. In the same way we should be servants, too.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to be a servant. Have a servant’s heart like Jesus does. Have a servant heart like “The Crazy Lady” Carol Stark of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We are surrounded in our community by people who are hurting because they don’t know the love that God has for them. Instead of being competitive about how good a Christian we are, like James and John (and their mother) did, let us seek to wash the feet of those in our community who do not know Jesus Christ. (Maybe not literally, but you know what I mean.)

 

“…whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.”

 

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

 

Upside Down: “Change”

Upside Down: “Change”
A Message on 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 11, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (NRSV)

 

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

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Let’s start out today by doing a little social experiment of sorts. How many of you are sitting in the same spot in the same pew that you always sit in? Raise your hand. (Now be sure to tell the truth and shame the devil.)

 

Raise your hand if you eat the same thing for breakfast every morning. Listen to the same radio station in your vehicle? Watch the same shows on TV? Put your socks and shows on in the same order and way?

 

We humans are creatures of habit, are we not? For some reason we like routines, doing the same thing in the same way at the same times day after day after day. We find comfort in our routines. We like routines. We don’t like change.

 

Here, let’s try something else. Cross your arms. Just cross your arms like this (show). Okay, now reverse which arm is on top. Just switch them out. How does it feel? Awkward? Uncomfortable?

 

We are also uncomfortable when it comes to changes in matters of faith as well, aren’t we?

 

I’ve talked before about in a previous church I served how upset some people got over which shade of white to paint the inside of the sanctuary. Not what color. Everyone agreed to paint it white, which was the color of the old paint. No, the issue of conflict was which shade of white to paint it. (And ironically there was very, very little difference between the shades.)

 

We even want our worship to stay the same and never change. We want to sing only the hymns we know, with the same instrumentation we are familiar with.

 

Let me read you some comments about worship music. See if any of this strikes a chord (pun intended) in you.

 

“I am no music scholar, but I feel I know appropriate church music when I hear it. Last Sunday’s new hymn – if you can call it that – sounded like a sentimental love ballad one would expect to hear crooned in a [bar]. If you insist on exposing us to rubbish like this – in God’s house! – don’t be surprised if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship. The hymns we grew up with are all we need.”

 

Sound familiar? Here’s the thing, though. This was from a letter written by a church member in 1863. And the “new hymn” they were referring to? “Just As I Am.”

http://www.lbcpc.org/music-ministers-blog/post/the-controversial-organ

 

Why are we so resistant to change in the church? I have a theory. Now this is just my own armchair psychology that comes from my own 13 years of experience as a minister.

 

The world is full of change. As we age things change. Our bodies change, usually not for the better. Relationships change and can become stressed or estranged. Financial matters change. We experience the change of loved ones dying. Jobs and careers change.

 

With so much change in the world we look for something that doesn’t change. We want to anchor to something that doesn’t change, and we look to the church to be that anchor. We want just one thing to hang on to with all our might in the midst of all of life’s changes, and we want the church to be that one thing.

 

Now to be clear the message of the church doesn’t change. Or it shouldn’t. But the church does change. We don’t chant the psalters. We don’t conduct the service in Latin. We use musical instruments.

 

Last night I was blessed to drive the People Mover to Bossier City, La. for a concert titled, “Winter Jam.” It had many bands and musicians perform and the place was packed! I checked online this morning and the capacity of that place is 14,000 people. Here’s a photo.

 

Now the music was loud. Very loud. There were lights and fog machines and even fireworks. The music was varied from semi-traditional hymns to rap to rock to hard rock. Most of you hear probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

 

So was it worship? Can you have worship with all those things? Absolutely! And the young folks loved it! And I can tell you it is impressive to be among 14,000 people singing praises to God and proclaiming Jesus as savior. It will give you Holy Spirit goosebumps, I guarantee.

 

The message of the church doesn’t change. But the church does change.  The young folks at the concert last night saw this: (show photo). The cross. The symbol of change.

 

The Bible contains so many true stories of change.

 

Noah was told there was going to be a flood and to build a huge boat, even though the sun was shining and it was dry at the time.

 

Moses encountered God at the burning bush and went from being a shepherd out in the boonies to representing God’s people before Pharaoh, the most powerful person in the entire region.

 

David, also a shepherd, bravely gave Goliath a splitting headache when he was still a youth and went on to become a king.

 

Ruth experienced change when her husband and his brothers and their father all died, and yet she went with her mother-in-law Naomi to a land foreign to Ruth to help her out.

 

Jacob was obedient to God which resulted in traveling to foreign lands, leaving behind the comfort and security of home.

 

Esther went from being a mild-mannered Jewish girl to being the queen and putting her life on the line in order to save her people.

 

Four of the disciples, James, John, Andrew, and Peter, walked away from being fishermen to become followers of Jesus.

 

And Paul! Oh we cannot forget about Paul. He went from being a high and mighty church leader with a reputation for persecuting the followers of Jesus to being one of the great leaders of the church, suffering greatly in doing so.

 

Knowing Paul’s background make what he wrote in the scripture we read today even more significant: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

 

When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior then we experience change. It’s a change for the good, no doubt about that, but yet it still is change… And it can be scary.

 

We change because we no longer put ourselves number one on our priority list. We put God and serving him as number one.

 

We change because we resist the wooings of this world and place priority on the things of heaven instead of the things of earth. (That’s what this series, “Upside Down,” is all about.)

 

We change because following Christ forces us out of our comfort zones as we seek to live out lives that bring the Kingdom of God to the earth, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

Even though as humans we resist change, as followers of Christ we are changed. We change. And we are the change.

 

The message of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection never changes. The way it is communicated does change, and has changed throughout the history of the church.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to be the change. As disciples of Jesus Christ we are called to make other disciples. Are you willing to change if it means bringing others to Christ? Are you willing to go through the awkwardness of change in order to introduce a hurting world the salvation found only in Jesus Christ?

 

Years ago Steven Curtis Chapman recorded a song titled, “The Change.” Part of the lyrics are:

 

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

 

You are a new creation through Christ. Don’t keep it to yourself. Be the change.

 

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

 

Upside Down: “Selfishness”

Upside Down: “Selfishness”
A Message on 2 Timothy 3:1-9
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
March 4, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

2 Timothy 3:1-9 (NRSV)


You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. 2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them! 6 For among them are those who make their way into households and captivate silly women, overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires, 7 who are always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people, of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith, also oppose the truth. 9 But they will not make much progress, because, as in the case of those two men, their folly will become plain to everyone.


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There’s a story about a very wealthy man riding down the road in his limousine when he notices two men on the side of the road. The men are eating grass. He orders his driver to stop and back up to the men. He gets out and asks them, “Why are you eating grass?”

 

“Because we are poor and we don’t have any food. The only thing we have to eat is grass.”

 

“Come and go with me,” the wealthy man said.

 

“But I have a wife and three kids,” said one man. “And I have a wife and six kids,” said the other.”

 

“Fine! Bring them too!”

 

So both families piled into the limo and the wealthy man asked to driver to drive to his house.

 

One of the poor men said, “This really is nice of you to do this. We appreciate our generosity.”

 

The wealthy man replied, “Oh, you will love my place. The grass there is almost a foot high!

 

Today we are continuing our sermon series “Upside Down” by looking at a topic the world tells us is good and which the Bible tells us is bad: selfishness.

 

In the scripture we read today from 2 Timothy, we find Paul giving advice to his young protege Timothy. Paul is describing the “last days” and the characteristics people will exhibit at that time.

 

Now I have seen this scripture posted on Facebook and other social media as proof that we are living in the end times. And in reading the list I can see where people might get that idea. But I also know that the Bible quotes Jesus as saying that nobody is going to know when the end times will be, so I don’t worry about it too much.

 

Now, let’s talk about that list. I’m going to read it again and want you to think about these characteristics and contemplate how many of these fit under the umbrella of selfishness.

 

Here they are: “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…”

 

How many of these characteristics are associated with selfishness? Most of them, aren’t they? Kinda scary, isn’t it, just how much power selfishness can have.

 

Selfishness is putting your own wants and needs in front of others. It is the opposite of humbleness, which we talked about a few weeks ago.

 

I like to think of selfishness as like a two-year-old child screaming “Mine!” when another toddler wants a toy, even if the two-year old isn’t playing with it. It’s the girlfriend in Toby Keith’s song, “I Wanna Talk about Me.”

 

The Bible talks a lot about selfishness. And in case you didn’t know, it isn’t in favor of it.

 

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

 

“How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (1John 3:17)

 

“Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.” (I Corinthians 10:24)

 

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)

 

“Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:26)

 

Get the picture?

 

This past week I was surprised to witness an act of selflessness, not selfishness, of all places on morning television.

 

Now I don’t watch morning television normally. Having a bachelor’s degree in journalism it raises my blood pressure to see what passes as “news” during those morning “news” shows. But Pam will sometimes turn one of them on, and this past week that was the case.

 

It happened to be “Good Morning, America,” and I don’t even remember the story they were doing. As part of the hosts’ witty repartee, though, someone told host Michael Strahan, “Yeah, but you won the Super Bowl.” (Strahan used to be a defensive end for the New York Giants.)

 

Without missing a beat Michael replied, “Fifty-three guys won the super bowl.” If you didn’t know it, there are 53 players on an NFL roster.

 

Now Michael could have accepted the compliment and moved on, but he felt it was important to point out that he was only one member of a team of 53 that won the Super Bowl in 2007.

 

Now I don’t know much about Michael Strahan but I certainly will give him a tip of the hat for that his comments. And it was refreshing to see something so opposite to what the world tells us.

 

The world tells us to be selfish. It’s all about me. Look out for number one. I am the greatest. But Jesus turns the world upside down and tells us that selfishness is bad, is not a good thing. I am convinced that you can’t be a follower of Jesus and be selfish. The term “selfish Christian” is an oxymoron, a phrase that contradicts itself.

 

Max Lucado wrote a book several years ago titled, It’s Not About Me: Rescue From the Life We Thought Would Make Us Happy. It’s a great little book which reminds us that as Christians we serve interests bigger than our own. Here’s what Max writes: “God does not exist to make a big deal out of us. We exist to make a big deal out of him. It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s all about him.”

 

Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross because he was not selfish. His concern was not on himself, but on those who needed reconciling to God. He willingly gave himself on the cross for those who couldn’t save themselves. He gave himself for sinners, sinners like us. That’s why we have the Lord’s Supper, so that we will remember his selfless sacrifice out of love for us. That’s why we have baptism: it’s not about what we do, but it is God at work in the water and the spirit.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to not be selfish. In your conversations this week be conscious of how many times you used the word “I” or “me.” Don’t make it all about you. Make it all about Jesus. Talk about Jesus more than you talk about yourself. People are hungry for Jesus. And if you see people that are so hungry they are eating grass, please not only tell them about Jesus but give them some food.

 

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