John: The True Vine

John: The True Vine
A Message on John 15:1-11
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 23, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 15:1-11 (NRSV)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

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I have learned a lot about growing grapes the past couple of years. About three years ago I bought a muscadine grape vine and planted it in the backyard of the parsonage. And that’s all I did to it other than water it when it got real dry.

Week before last I went out and picked the ripe muscadine grapes and made some muscadine jelly. There weren’t a whole lot of grapes, and the ones that were there were small, but I got enough to make jelly. (Well, not really. I needed 5 cups of juice and only got 4, so I added a cup of Welch’s grape juice to make up the difference. Okay, I know, but don’t judge. The jelly tastes great!)

Now my daughter Emily attends Texas A&M University (Whoop!) where she is majoring in Agricultural Communications and minoring in Horticulture. She knows about plants and growing things and the past several years she has been telling me over and over and over that I need to prune my grape vines during the winter when they are dormant. She begs me to prune them. And every year I don’t.

I’m not good at pruning things. It hurts my heart to prune. I figure if the plant is growing, just let it grow. As a result I have a real bushy plant (here’s a photo). I am disappointed year after year that I don’t get very many grapes from it and that the grapes I do get are very small. So I say that I’m going to prune the vines come winter but then I chicken out and say things like, “Well, if I water it more this year than I did last year I’ll get more and better grapes.” Except it never works.

Here are two photos. On the left are my grapes. On the right are what they are supposed to look like. Sigh… So why are mine so puny? I’m guessing it’s because I don’t prune the vines. The plant’s root system is spread too thin trying to get water and nutrients to too many leaves and stalks that it doesn’t have what’s necessary to raise good, large grapes.

Pam is much better at pruning than I am because she is more brutal than I am. Back before I went into the ministry we had rose bushes at our house. After seeing my feeble attempts at pruning and she would get the pruning shears and prune them properly. And every year I thought she had pruned too much and killed the plant. It would just be like a couple of sticks left and it looked so pitiful and I would think, “Well, she’s killed that bush. We’ll have to replace it this coming year.” (I would also think to myself, “I’m never letting her cut my hair. I wouldn’t have any left!)

But we never had to buy new rose bushes. In spite of my pessimism and her viscous pruning, the rose bushes would grow strongly and produce beautiful blooms.

In the scripture we read today from the gospel of John Jesus is talking about grape vines and the importance of pruning them. Even in the ancient world they, unlike me, knew the importance of pruning the vines so that they would produce more and better fruit.

Grapes were a very important part of the ancient world. In Genesis we find Noah being credited as the first person to plant a grape orchard. He planted grapes after he and his family got off their cruise. (He also got drunk off the wine from those grapevines, but that’s another sermon for another time.)

One of the things required for the sacrificial system, along with animals and grain, was wine. So it had significant religious purposes even in the Old Testament.

In Jesus’ parables we find the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). So grapes and vineyards and wine were important in Bible times!

And of course in the New Testament I hope you think of the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus told his disciples that the wine was his blood and that the bread was his body. It’s something so significant that we still celebrate it today (except for during this pandemic). I am SO looking forward to the day when we can celebrate it again!

Today I want to explore what Jesus means when he is talking about the true vine, pruning, and producing fruit.

First, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.” This means that God is the vinegrower, and Jesus is the vine. Jesus, in doing the will of God, is the “true vine,” the connection to God.

Of course in Trinitarian theology we know that Jesus is not only the way to God but IS God, as is the Holy Spirit. God in three persons, all equal, all God. But Jesus is using a metaphor here, and when it comes to God all metaphors fall short.

Jesus is saying this for our benefit, to help us comprehend a theological concept. Jesus is telling us, through the terms “true vine,” that he is the real deal.

There is a variety of wild grapes that grow in the middle east, but they are not very good. The grapes themselves are small, dry, and not very productive. In Isaiah 5 we read about these wild grapes.

“Let me sing for my beloved, my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.” Isaiah 5:1-2

Later in the chapter Isaiah writes this: “And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” Isaiah 5:5-6

Because the grapevines that are growing are wild grapes, the owner is destroying it, abandoning it. Isaiah is saying that because Jerusalem and Judea have not followed God’s laws and have turned away from God, becoming in effect “wild grapes,” then God will abandon them to their wicked ways. The vines in the orchard were not “true” vines.

Jesus is the “true vine.” As we read in the scripture last week from the previous chapter in John, Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Unfortunately there are many wild vines that lead us astray today. These vines look pretty, they are nice and green and look attractive, but they don’t produce any fruit. We water and fertilize them with our time, our energy, our finances, our relationships. We give them our attention, thinking that at any time they are going to bear the fruit we seek: completeness, wholeness, finding the meaning for our life.

But the fruit never comes, because it can’t. IT’s not the true vine. Only Jesus is the true vine, the only one that produces the fruit of righteousness, of grace, of love.

Now let’s talk about pruning. Pruning hurts. We don’t like to prune, and we don’t like to be pruned. But just as with grapes, pruning is necessary to bear fruit.

When we follow Jesus there will be times when it will be necessary for him to prune us. When we start thinking too much of ourselves and make everything be about “me,” when we begin thinking the world revolves around us, we need to be pruned in order to bear the fruit of humility.

When we begin to make idols and begin to worship them, things such as greed, popularity, possessions, careers, or hobbies, then we need Jesus to prune us in order to produce the fruit of worshiping only the one true God.

When we fail to feed the poor, to seek peace, to stand up for justice, to advocate for the oppressed, and to fight evil in our world, we need Jesus to prune us in order to produce the fruit of, well, being Christian.

The reality is that anything we think, say, or do that doesn’t bear fruit for the Kingdom of God needs to be pruned. It’s not pleasant, and it can be painful at the time, but it is what is necessary for us to be connected to the True Vine and produce good fruit.

The final topic I want to explore today is that of bearing fruit. As Christians, we are called to bear fruit, to further the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Christianity is not a self-centered religion. Unfortunately many people get the idea that the primary focus of being a Christ follower is our own salvation, of making that decision to follow Jesus and therefore, be “saved” which keeps us from burning in hell after we die. I call that “Jesus as fire insurance.”

But there is so much more to being a Christian than that! It is an important part, yes, but once we are “justified” (to use a Wesleyan term) then we are to work to move on to sanctification.

Remember is Wesleyan theology we have prevenient grace, which is God working in our lives, even when we don’t realize it or know it, before we come to Jesus. Justifying grace is when we accept that grace that Jesus offers us by making the decision to accept him as our savior, but the third expression of grace is sanctifying grace, those things that we do after we are saved that draw us closer to God and to–get this–bear fruit.

How are we to bear fruit? By telling others about Jesus. Not only that, but being active in leading others to Christ as well. When we are pruned from the world’s temptations and desires, then we will focus on God, being connected to the True Vine, and will lead others to Christ. We will fulfill the great commission found in the 28th chapter of Matthew: “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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20

That’s how we produce fruit! Unlike my puny grapes, big, beautiful, gorgeous clusters of grapes!

So my challenge for you this week is three fold: 1. Remember to stay connected to the True Vine. 2. Prune anything out of your life that doesn’t lead toward producing fruit toward the Kingdom, and 3. Tell others about Jesus so we can bear fruit for the Kingdom.

And if you need your grapevines pruned, you better call Pam or Emily, not me.

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

John: Glory

John: Glory
A Message on John 12:36b-43
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Aug. 9, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 12:36b-43 (NRSV)

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. 37 Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

“Lord, who has believed our message,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. 42 Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

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In order for us to grasp what is happening in the scripture we read today from the Gospel of John we need to back up to the beginning of the 12th Chapter.

Jesus visits at the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, and his sisters Mary and Martha, . Martha serves him and Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume, which drive’s Judas nuts because of the cost.

After that the Jewish leaders plot to kill Lazarus because of all the people coming to see him and people believing in Jesus because of him being raised from the dead.

Then Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey with huge crowds surrounding him and running ahead of him.

Once in Jerusalem talks about his death and says, “God, I glorify your name.” Then a voice comes from heaven that says, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

Some in the crowd thought the voice was thunder, while others thought it was an angel talking to Jesus. Jesus says, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Then the crowd starts arguing about whether he is the messiah or not, pointing out that the scriptures say the messiah will be with them forever and he is talking about being raised up.

That is when we come to today’s reading where Jesus leaves and hides from them. He has to get away from the crowds and the unbelief that so many in the crowd have about him.

The part of today’s scripture that I want to focus on today is the last paragraph: “Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him. 42 Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.”

Here is The Message paraphrase of that scripture: “Isaiah said these things after he got a glimpse of God’s cascading brightness that would pour through the Messiah. On the other hand, a considerable number from the ranks of the leaders did believe. But because of the Pharisees, they didn’t come out in the open with it. They were afraid of getting kicked out of the meeting place. When push came to shove they cared more for human approval than for God’s glory.”

First let’s talk about glory? Just what exactly is glory?

The first thing that comes to my mind is the Battle Hymn of the Republic and it’s refrain:

Glory, glory, Hallelujah! Glory, glory, Hallelujah!
Glory, glory, Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

It’s not a word we use much anymore but it is used in the Bible, 443 times to be exact (in the NRSV). In theology terms it means praise, worship, and thanksgiving given to God.

A new usage, which I didn’t know until working on this message, is that the word “glory” can also refer to the luminous ring or halo depicted in art around the head of Jesus or a saint. Hmmmm. You learn something new everyday…

Another way to think about “glory” is being “used to describe the manifestation of God’s presence as perceived by humans.” (That one is from Wikipedia, by the way.)

One of the ways I think of glory is when in the Old Testament Moses goes up on Mount Sinai to receive the 10 commandments. Here’s the way it is described in Exodus 24:13-15, “Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.”

The spectacle really freaked out the Jewish people. They were fearful of God’s glory and wanted Moses to intercede for them, which he did. And when he came down the mountain his face glowed, which also freaked them out, so much so that he had to wear a veil when he was around people.

And yet after all that, after seeing all those things, the people still became stiff necked and disobeyed.

Another way I think of glory is when it comes to the tabernacle and temple the Jewish people used to worship God. We find several references in scripture where the tabernacle, the place it was believed that God resided on earth, was completed. Here is Exodus 40:34-35, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”

We find the same thing happening at the completion of the temple under the leadership of King Solomon. “… the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.” 2 Chronicles 5:13b-14

So we have that concept of glory from the Old Testament scriptures, along with Moses going into a cleft of a rock for protection when the glory of the Lord passed by, because no one can see the face of the Lord and live. (Exodus 33)

With that frame of mind, let’s look at that last paragraph of today’s scripture reading. “…for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.”

In our society today we glorify people in many different ways. A superstar athlete is glorified for their athletic skills (and sometimes their scandalous actions). Movie stars are glorified for their abilities to act (and sometimes their scandalous actions). Recording artists are glorified for their music (and sometimes their scandalous actions). Successful businessmen or politicians are glorified for their leadership (and sometimes their scandalous actions).

Fame is an interesting phenomenon.

I am currently reading a biography of Ulysses S. Grant by Rob Chernow that I find to be fascinating.

First, did you know his name really wasn’t Ulysses S. Grant? It was Hiram Ulysses Grant but when he was appointed to West Point he tried to reverse his first and middle name so that his initials wouldn’t spell HUG, but the paperwork got messed up and he went with Ulysses S. Grant, contending that the “S” didn’t stand for anything.

Also I found out that he was Methodist! Yep! Several times in the book the author refers to his attending Methodist churches and how his Methodist upbringing formed his moral values.

I also learned that he had several failures before he succeeded in moving up the military ranks and leading all the Union forces during the United States Civil War.

After winning the war for the Union, Grant became a celebrity even though he really didn’t want to be. He shied away from the spotlight but was unable to after the war. Whenever accolades were heaped upon him he deflected them from himself and gave credit to the brave men who fought under his command. He didn’t want glory for himself but sought to glorify those who fought, and the thousands who died, for the Union cause.

Grant was adamantly anti-slavery and worked hard after the war to protect and give full rights, including the right to vote, to the freed slaves. He even went so far as to buck President Andrew Johnson, who as vice president became president after the assasination of Abraham Lincoln. Johnson wanted to please southern plantation owners and was very racist in his views of the freed slaves.

Now Grant wasn’t perfect. He had a weakness for alcoholic beverages, something he fought throughout his career. He was naive and trusted people, many who took advantage of him and fleeced money from him.

But throughout the book (well, the parts of it that I have read so far) I have been impressed with his desire to give glory to others other than himself.

It’s difficult not to seek human glory, isn’t it? Who doesn’t want to be admired, honored, acclaimed, celebrated, praised, and recognized? I think it’s part of human nature that we want to be liked by others, and another part of our human nature to be considered better than others.

But there is a danger in that. When we seek the praise and glory of others we are metaphorically creating a false idol that we begin to worship, instead of worshipping God.

Equally–or maybe more so–dangerous is our glorification of others. Like Dorothy and the characters in the Wizard of Oz we lift up others to the point of worship, only to find out when we look behind the curtains that they are only human, complete with human flaws, weaknesses, and mistakes.

We have to be aware of becoming like the Pharisees in today’s scripture who loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

We need to periodically pose the question to ourselves that the Apostle Paul writes in the first chapter of Galatians: “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

So my challenge to you this week is to be conscious of seeking human glory. Instead, seek to glorify God through the words you say, the actions you take, and by how you love others. Let us not be like the Pharisees, but let us be like Jesus Christ himself, giving glory and honor to our father in heaven.

Glory, glory, Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

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

John: Blindness

Jesus Heals a Blind Man by Brian Jekel

John: Blindness
A Message on John 9:1-12, 35-41
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 26, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 9:1-12, 35-41 (NRSV)

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

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

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The late cajun comedian Justin Wilson used to tell the story of coming across a group of cajuns holding up a long barn pole (kind of like a telephone pole). The group was having trouble keeping it upright, sticking straight up in the air, because at the top of a pole was a small Cajun boy holding a tape measure. The boy was trying to let out the tape measure to the ground and not having much success as the pole was wobbling back and forth as those on the ground tried to hold it still.

Justin walks up and says, “How y’all are! What are y’all doing?”

One of the men responds with, “Are you blind, hah? We tryin’ to measure how tall this pole is.”

Justin says, “Well den, why dontcha lay it down on de ground and measure it?”

The guy says, “You think we’re stupid? We done did dat. We know how long it is. We tryin’ to find out how tall it is!”

In the scripture we read today from the ninth chapter of John, we find the religious leaders kind of like those Cajuns trying to see how tall the pole was: they just didn’t get it.

The whole situation starts back at the beginning of Chapter 9 when Jesus comes across a blind man. The disciples travelling with Jesus ask him in a roundabout way why the man was blind. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

No that sounds may kind of sound ridiculous today but in the first century it was common thinking. I had a professor in seminary say that an oversimplification of theology in the Old Testament was this: “You do good, you get good. You do bad, you get bad.”

The thought process went something like this: since the man was born blind, then God must have been punishing him for some horrible sin he had committed, or been punishing his parents for some horrible sin they must have committed. The bottom line was that somebody must have sinned, and sinned bad, and God was punishing him/her/them by taking away this man’s sight when he was born.

As Christians we don’t believe that, of course. Or do we? I believe that sometimes we still do. I know that I used to. I think it’s part of our human nature to sometimes believe it. When things fall apart and we are in despair we ask ourselves if God is causing the bad things to happen as punishment toward us. In counseling with people after a tragedy I have heard people full of grief say things like, “Is God punishing me for something I did?”

My answer to such questions is “No.” Now God is all powerful and certainly has the ability to inflict punishment on us should he decide to, but in God’s grace he doesn’t. Our God is a loving God, “…as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.” — Psalm 103:12

God doesn’t cause bad things to happen. He allows them to, but he doesn’t cause pandemics, car wrecks, cancer, etc.

In the scripture we read today Jesus tells his disciples that the man’s blindness wasn’t caused by his sin and it wasn’t caused by his parents’ sin, either. Then Jesus gives them a reason why the man was blind: “…he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

Max Lucado, in his book, “It’s Not About Me” (which I highly recommend, by the way), he tells of a friend who was hospitalized with cancer. The prognosis was not good and the friend found himself doubting his faith as well-meaning friends told him that if he only had faith he would get better. He didn’t get better. Max met with him, heard his anguish, and responded with this:

“It’s not about you. Your hospital room is a showcase for your Maker. Your faith in the face of suffering cranks up the volume of God’s song.” Oh, that you could have seen the relief on his face. To know that he hadn’t failed God and God hadn’t failed him— this made all the difference. Seeing his sickness in the scope of God’s sovereign plan gave his condition a sense of dignity. He accepted his cancer as an assignment from heaven: a missionary to the cancer ward. A week later I saw him again. “I reflected God,” he said, smiling through a thin face, “to the nurses, the doctors, my friends. Who knows who needed to see God, but I did my best to make him seen.” [Lucado, Max. It’s Not About Me: Rescue From the Life We Thought Would Make Us Happy (p. 126). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.]

I witnessed a similar thing with our own Darryl Bonner several years ago. Even as Darryl lay dying in a bed at a hospice care facility he exuded the love of Jesus to those who were taking care of him. He definitely, as Max put it, cranked up the volume of God’s song. Darryl had it booming in that room.

Jesus, in healing the blind man in today’s scripture, cranked up the volume of God’s song as well. Again, God did not cause the man’s blindness as a punishment of some sin he or his parents had committed. No. But in being healed from this blindness he became a witness to God’s glory.

So Jesus heals the blind man and the blind man becomes a witness to the miracles of Jesus. Now an interesting thing happens: some people refuse to believe him.

The scriptures tell us that some people didn’t believe he was the same man who used to be blind and beg. And if you read the part we skipped today, verses 13-34, we find the Pharisees pretty much harassing the man, refusing to believe him. They call him in to question him again and again.

The Pharisees even bring in the man’s parents, who are scared to death, and ask if the man really was born blind and if this is the same man. The parents respond, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” — John 9:20-21

After being questioned multiple times by the Pharisees, who keep questioning the man because they don’t like his answers. They kept saying that Jesus was a sinner and because of that he couldn’t have healed the man’s blindness. The man, getting frustrated with the Pharisees, finally has enough. He tells them, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” — John 9:30-33 The Message

The Pharisees, stung and offended, do what most people do when offended: offend back. They say, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” — John 9:34. And after they said that they drove him out of the temple, I’m sure pretty roughly.

That’s where we pick up the second part of our scripture today where Jesus finds out that they had driven the man out of the temple. He starts a conversation with the man and the man believes that Jesus is the son of man.

Jesus then says, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” — John 9:39

Well the Pharisees, who hear this, are again offended by this stinging rebuke and bow up against Jesus. They say, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” (Again, remember that these people associated blindness with sin. So basically, “We are not sinners so therefore we aren’t blind.”)

Jesus responds to them: “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

Ouch! Or as the teenagers used to say years ago, “Booyah!”

Jesus is using blindness as a spiritual metaphor. The Pharisees, being not only the religious leaders but the social and cultural leaders of the Jewish people, believe themselves to be better than everyone else, especially those with disabilities, those that are cripple, blind, mute, or who have leprosy. After all, those people sinned and God is punishing them by giving them their disability.

They had eyes, but they did not see. Meanwhile, the blind man, who previously could not see, does believe in Jesus Christ.

It echoes what was written in the Old Testament in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah sees a vision, the one where a seraph gets a hot coal from the altar with a pair of tongs and goes and touches Isaiah on the lips. God tells Isaiah, “Go and tell this people: ‘Listen hard, but you aren’t going to get it; look hard, but you won’t catch on.’ Make these people blockheads, with fingers in their ears and blindfolds on their eyes, So they won’t see a thing, won’t hear a word, So they won’t have a clue about what’s going on and, yes, so they won’t turn around and be made whole.” The Message

Jesus even quotes this scripture from Isaiah in the 13th chapter of Matthew. He ends it by telling his disciples, “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.” — Matthew 13:16.

As humans we are pretty bad about seeing only what we want to see. We see it in politics in this election year. Something will happen and one side of the political aisle sees it only one way, and the other side sees it as just the other. It’s the same event, but the perceptions are completely opposite. We see what we want to see.

It’s like the old adage of do you see the glass half full or half empty? (I say it depends on what liquid is in the glass.)

Here, let me show you a piece of artwork. This is called “On White II” by Wassily Kandinsky. What do you think about it?

Until Pam and I watched an old movie this past week I had never heard of Kandinsky, but apparently he was one of the pioneers of abstract art way back in the 1920s. This piece, “On White II” (which I guess means there was a “On White I”?), is one of his more famous pieces.

To be honest with you when I look at this I kinda go, “meh.” I like the bright colors and the cool geometric shapes, but that’s about it. I don’t see much beyond that. To me it kinda looks like a wristwatch exploded.

But according to those that know such things, there is much, much more to this piece of art. Here, I’ll quote to you from the official Kandinsky website about this painting: “As the title suggests, white is predominant in this painting, including the background. Kandinsky used white to represent life, peace and silence. The majority of the geometric shapes are presented in a variety of colours, reflecting the artist’s love for the free expression of inner emotions. Striking through the kaleidoscope of shapes and colours are bold, spiked barbs in black, representing non-existence and death.” []

Uh….. huh….okay… I guess?

After reading that I realize that my perception of this piece of art is a lot different from “those who see.” It makes me think that not only am I not in the deep end of the art appreciation swimming pool, but I kinda doubt that I am even in the kiddie pool.

As humans we see things differently. We perceive things differently.

Years ago there was a country song sung by John Conlee titled “Rose Colored Glasses.” In the song John sings of how his woman has cheated on him and doesn’t treat him well, and yet he still loves her. The words of the chorus are:

But these rose colored glasses
That I’m looking through
Show only the beauty
‘Cause they hide all the truth

In the first century the religious leaders of the day were metaphorically looking through rose colored glasses when it came to how they were spiritually leading the people. They were the smart ones, the ones who knew all the laws in the scriptures, and they were all too eager to enforce those laws on the Jewish people.

But those rose colored glasses, that they were looking through, kept them from seeing the real Jesus, from perceiving the truth.

Today as Christians we can also see things through rose colored glasses, being blind to the truth.

If we look down on others as being less important, less “holy” than we are, then we are like the Pharisees and are blind to the truth.

If we rationalize our theological views to make them match our political views, then we are blind to the truth.

If we say we are Christians and followers of Jesus Christ but put our own wants and needs in front of others, we are blind to the truth.

You get the idea.

So my challenge to you this week is to give yourself a spiritual eye exam. Ask yourself if you are seeing only the things you want to see, or are you seeing things through the eyes of Jesus.

In the words of singer songwriter Brandon Heath, in his song “Give Me Your Eyes,”

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see,
Everything that I keep missing,
Give your love for humanity.
Give me your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten.
Give me Your eyes so I can see.

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

“On White II” by Wassily Kandinsky

John: The Woman Caught in Adultery

John: Condemnation
A Message on John 8:1-11
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 19, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 8:1-11 (NRSV)

…Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.

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As we continue our sermon series on the Gospel of John today we will explore an event that only occurs in John: the woman caught in adultery.

None of the synoptic gospels include this story, only John does. And there are scholars that think this story is a late addition to the Gospel of John because it does not appear in some of the earliest manuscripts. But for the purposes of today let’s just assume that it did actually happen and that John witnessed it and wrote about it in his gospel.

John describes a very awkward situation. A woman has been caught in adultery. Not only was she doing something wrong, but according to the scribes and the Pharisees that bring the woman before Jesus, she was caught “in the very act of committing adultery.”

Now it is important to remember the scribes’ and Pharisees’ motivation in bringing the woman to Jesus. They were trying to trap Jesus. They didn’t like Jesus’ teachings because he was calling them out for their hypocrisy. They were saying they were following the laws of Moses, but they were all about the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law.

So when they bring this woman to Jesus it wasn’t really about the woman and what she had done. The thing was not the thing. They wanted Jesus to say something or do something that would provide them with evidence that they could use to kill him (or have him killed). They wanted to kill Jesus, but being the good, law-abiding religious people they were, they wanted a good reason to kill him so that they would still look good by not disobeying the law.

To quote the character Mongo from the movie “Blazing Saddles,” “Mongo just pawn in game of life.” The woman caught in adultery is a pawn in their game of scheming and entrapment. Their end game is much bigger: killing Jesus.

That isn’t to say that what the woman has done is just a minor infraction of the law. We may not think it’s that big of a deal today because in Texas adultery is not a crime. (I did some research and found out that 21 states still consider adultery a misdemeanor, while six states still consider it a felony. But in Texas, it is not a crime.)

At the time of Jesus (and prior to that all the way back to Moses) adultery had a much stiffer penalty. If you turn back in your Bibles to Deuteronomy 22:22 you’ll find the punishment for adultery. “If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.”

As if there is any doubt about that, in Leviticus 20:10 we read, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.”

Pretty harsh, right?

Another interesting thing to note is that the scribes and Pharisees prescribe the method of executing the woman: stoning.

Now the law we read about in Leviticus don’t say anything about stoning being the method of death, but Deuteronomy does list it as the punishment in Deuteronomy 22:23-24, “If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”

We don’t know the specifics of the situation the scribes and Pharisees bring before Jesus, but the punishment suggested indicates that it might be one like Deuteronomy 22:23.

It’s important to note the location of where this interaction between the religious leaders and Jesus takes place. Jesus is at the temple, the location where the Jews believe that God resided on earth. It was the site of sacrifices and worship as well as religious teaching, which is what Jesus was doing before the religious leaders interrupted him.

The temple was an important place. It was not only the religious center of the world for the Jewish people, but also was an important center of culture, commerce, and civil life (with the exception of the occupying Roman rulers, of course.) It was where people gathered to discuss things, to philosophize, to “see and be seen.”

Knowing this, think of just how humiliating this would have been for the woman caught in adultery. We are not given any hints as to how she was dressed (or undressed, as the case might have been), but to be marched to a public place and made to stand in front of a group of people and accused of adultery had to be a difficult thing for her emotionally. The only modern equivalent I can think of is if someone’s adultery is shared on Facebook. Twitter, and other social media platforms.

So this woman, humiliated and shamed, stands before everyone, including Jesus. But Jesus does something interesting. He bends down and starts writing on the ground.

Now we don’t know what he wrote. John’s gospel does not record that. Scholars throughout the year have speculated and there are some interesting theories, but again, it’s all guess work. We just don’t know. And I think that is on purpose. I believe he knelt down and wrote on the ground not to put a prophetic message in the dirt, but for another reason: so that he would not be looking at the woman.

If you think about it, much of the shame and embarrassment and humiliation the woman was experiencing was the result of everyone looking at her, knowing what she had done. But Jesus doesn’t. By writing on the ground he averts his gaze from the woman to the ground, in effect refusing to participate in her public shaming.

Then, only when everyone is gone, he stands and looks at her face. He refuses to participate in her public shaming even with his nonverbal communication.

Now let’s talk about condemnation. The Greek word used in the scripture we read today is katakrinō. It is more like a legal term, meaning “to give judgement against,” and “to judge worthy of punishment.”

We still use the word condemn in judicial and punishment terms. We use phrases like, “He was condemned to life in prison.” Or “He was condemned to death.”

Another way we use the word is to describe a house or building that is in such horrible condition that it is not safe for people to be in it. We say, “They finally condemned that old building,” or “They condemned that dilapidated house.”

“Condemnation” or to “condemn” are not happy, uplifting words. If you are on the receiving end of them they don’t make you feel good.

As humans, part of our human nature is to condemn. If you don’t believe me just watch the news. In the US the two major political parties condemn each other regularly. Special interest groups condemn the people that think differently than them. And with social media today anyone who posts something that isn’t politically correct is condemned. People no longer politely disagree with each other, they yell… or worse.

Pam’s dad used to have chickens. I remember him buying some young chickens that were all the same age. These were what we called “yard birds” that roamed around in the yard during the day but then were locked up in a chicken coop at night. They all got along great with each other but when these chickens reached a certain age their behavior started changing. If one of them got a spot on their back one of the other chickens would start pecking at it. This, of course, made the spot worse, which meant that the other chickens REALLY started pecking at it. Things got worse and worse until they had literally pecked the chicken to death.

After a while, the pattern repeated itself as the chickens selected another victim and condemned it to death.

Too many times we as humans are like those chickens. Somebody will make a bad choice and it will become publicly known. Then we join in the “pecking” of the victim, both on social media and word of mouth, condemning them for whatever it was that they did.

That’s what the Jewish leaders were doing when they brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus. They knew the punishment for adultery was to stone the victim to death. I have no doubt that if Jesus had responded with, “Yep. That’s what the law says,” that they would start collecting rocks and wouldn’t have batted an eye as this woman was stoned to death.

The Pharisees and scribes noticed a weakness on a fellow chicken: the woman caught in adultery. They started pecking at her, detaining her, dragging her out in public, and forcing her to appear in the Temple. And if it weren’t for Jesus, they would have pecked her until she died.

Now it’s interesting the note that the man is never mentioned. It takes two to tango, and two to commit adultery. So where was the man? Why wasn’t he dragged in front of Jesus like the woman?

I sometimes wonder if the Pharisees and scribes didn’t set the whole thing up. I was feeling kinda bad for thinking that until I heard someone else say something about it. I was driving on Thursday and tuned in to “The Well,” the new Christian teaching station out of Tyler on 94.3 & 95.3 FM.

I tuned in and on the air was a pastor named Paul Shepherd, in California. He started talking about this scripture and pointed out that the Pharisees “caught her in the act, which means they were looking for it. That begs the question, ‘What are y’all doing looking at it?’ They stand outside her window. They didn’t even fool with the man. Such hypocrites. They knew they better not roll up on that man, saying ‘We saw you.’ And they little Pharisees, don’t know how to fight. They knew not to run up on that man. He’d bust all of ‘em up. So they waited for him to leave, ran in, grabbed the woman that they caught in the act that they were looking for. Mmm, mmm, mmm. Lord have mercy. Oh, the devil [was] busy [that day].”

While that involves some speculation, it is one theory why we don’t hear about the man. I have another one: what if the Pharisees and scribes paid the man to do it. Or what if it was someone they knew, maybe another Pharisee or scribe? Or what if the woman was a prostitute? What if that was the only way she could keep from starving since there weren’t a lot of jobs for women at the time, and desperate people will do desperate things just to survive. We just don’t know, but we know the religious leaders of the day provided false witnesses against Jesus, so I wouldn’t put it past them.

While we don’t know about the man, we do know they detained the woman. She was brought before Jesus, with the Pharisees and scribes wanting him to condemn her. After all, that’s what the law said, right? And the law is the law. Better start picking up rocks…

But Jesus doesn’t fall for their trap. He knows their hearts and the real motivation behind bringing the woman before them. And he answers in a way that doesn’t violate the letter of the law, but in fact interprets it in a way that makes it even better.

“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Brilliant.

The Pharisees and scribes were all about the law. They were the experts on all the religious rules. But they also knew that there multiple times in the Psalms scripture says everyone sins. They had all sinned. Everybody sins. Now they would have considered themselves to be upright, righteous people, better than everybody else, but they knew better than to say they had never sinned.

If you think about it, when we condemn others it’s about power. If I condemn someone I am saying that like the Pharisees and scribes I am somehow better than them. I am more moral, more holy, a better citizen, much more valuable than the person who messed up. I am more powerful than them.

But that’s worldly thinking, not Godly thinking. It’s easy to fall into that kind of worldly thinking. Real easy. But the easy thing is most often not the right thing. The easy thing is rarely the right thing.

The Pharisees and scribes realize that they cannot condemn the woman because they, too, are sinners. Jesus doesn’t condemn the woman, either, even though, being sinless, he certainly could.

Now people are pretty quick to point out this scripture when someone is judging another. And rightfully so. They remember the “neither do I condemn you” part, but they conveniently forget the second statement Jesus makes to the woman: “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Or the shortened version, “Go, and sin no more.”

And that is an important distinction to remember. In not condemning the woman Jesus isn’t justifying what she did. He is not saying, “Oh, I don’t want to judge you, so it’s not my place to say whether adultery is right or wrong for you.” No. Sin is still sin, and sin is still wrong. Jesus don’t like sin.

Jesus does not say it’s okay to sin, but he does show that we should be more about compassion than judgement. We should be more compassionate than we are judgemental.

We need to remember that as he was dying on the cross for our sins, for your sins and my sins, he refused to show judgement to the Roman soldiers that were killing him. Instead he showed compassion. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

So my challenge to you this week is to show compassion more than judgement. Be less like the Pharisees and scribes and be more like Jesus.

Don’t be like a chicken and start pecking on others. After all, one day the other chickens may decide to peck on you!

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

John: Baptizing with the Holy Spirit

John: Baptizing With the Holy Spirit
A Message on John 1:29-34
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 12, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 1:29-34 (NRSV)

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

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I want to start off today by telling you a story of a young boy who attended church in a denomination that practiced full immersion baptism. (Some people call it “dunking.”) He had been to church several times and had seen people baptized, and he was really impressed by it.

So one day he decided that he would play preacher and baptize the family cat. He got a washtub and put some water in it with a water hose, then hunted down the cat. He picked up the cat and brought it to the tub of water, said what he could remember of what the preacher said, and then tried to dunk the cat.

Well as you might expect the cat was having none of it. It fought him, scratching and biting him before running away only partially wet. Undaunted, the young boy once again catches the cat and tries again. Same result: the cat scratches and bites, gets out of his grip, and runs away.

The boy thinks the third time might be the charm so he once again catches the cat, carries it to the tub or water, and tries again. No luck. The cat, who is catching on by now, goes full on fight mode against the boy, and escapes yet once again barely wet.

The boy, exasperated and covered in bites and scratches, yells after the cat, “Fine, then! Just go on and be a Methodist!”

Today we will be continuing our sermon series on the Gospel of John by looking at the topic of baptism. And we are doing that today because, as you have already seen, today is confirmation day, a day when young men and women who have completed the 12 week confirmation classes make a decision to follow Jesus Christ as his savior and be baptized or, if they were baptized as children, affirm their faith.

Now here’s something that I find interesting: the Gospel of John doesn’t specifically talk about Jesus’ baptism. Nope. The closest we get is what we read today. The three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about Jesus coming to John and being baptized in the Jordan River, but in John’s gospel all we get is John the Baptist talking about Jesus.

Now that doesn’t mean that the author of John (who was not John the Baptist, remember) didn’t believe Jesus was baptized. No. What we have is kind of John the Baptist’s commentary on what happened. For example, while he doesn’t talk about the act of baptising Jesus he does talk about personally witnessing the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove and resting on Jesus, confirming for him that Jesus is the Son of God.

In the synoptic gospels, which do give specifics about Jesus’ baptism, we find some differences. There is a voice from heaven which says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In Mark and Luke, the voice addresses Jesus himself, but in Matthew the voice is witnessed by those present at the baptism of Jesus.

When we talk about baptism the thing that usually comes to mind first is water. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river which, of course, has water. That’s why we baptise with water. But there is something else as well. We also baptize with the Holy Spirit.

If you noticed when I baptized the confirmands that after I either placed them under the water or poured it over their head, I placed my hand on their head and said these words: “the Holy Spirit work within you, that having been born through water and the Spirit, you may live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

In doing this I invoke the Holy Spirit on them. They are baptized by water and the Spirit.

That’s what we do as United Methodist. We baptize with water and the Holy Spirit.

There is a booklet published by the United Methodist Church titled, By Water and the Spirit. This book does a great job in describing the United Methodist views on baptism, including why we baptize infants, why we have three modes of applying the water (sprinkling, pouring, and immersion) and, of course, why we baptize in both water and Spirit.

Here’s how that publication puts it: “Through the work of the Holy Spirit — the continuing presence of Christ on earth — the Church is instituted to be the community of the new covenant. Within this community, baptism is by water and the Spirit (John 3:5, Acts 2:38).

“In God’s work of salvation, the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection is inseparably linked with the gift of the Holy Spirit given on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Likewise, participation in Christ’s death and resurrection is inseparably linked with receiving the Spirit (Romans 6:1-11, 8:9-14).”

At the beginning of the baptismal liturgy, which we read this morning, we find these words that express what we as United Methodists believe about baptism:

“Brothers and sisters in Christ:
Through the Sacrament of Baptism
we are initiated into Christ’s holy Church.
We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation
and given new birth through water and the Spirit.
All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.”

These young women and men have boldly made the decision to follow Jesus Christ. They understand what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be United Methodist, and what is expected of them as members. As we were discussing supporting the church with prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness, they were excited to find out that as members they are eligible to serve on church committees! I think that is so awesome!

An important part of the baptismal service is that not only do those being baptized profess their faith, but the congregation renews the membership vows they took when they were baptized. In effect we who have been previously baptized are reminded of the covenant we made when we were baptized and pledge once again that we will uphold those vows.

This past week at the confirmation retreat we talked about how in the United Methodist Church we have two sacraments. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. United Methodists observe two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

We consider these sacraments because they are acts that Jesus not only performed, but charged his disciples–and us–to observe as well.

So my challenge to you this week, a week in which we celebrate the baptisms and the confirming of faith of these young people, is to remember your baptismal covenant and renew your vow to live a life like Jesus Christ.

Jesus, God’s only son, came to earth and lived among us as a human. He performed miracles and taught us how to live as his followers and promised us the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us live into our faith in bold ways, even in the midst of a pandemic.

And if you ever want to baptize a cat, I suggest you reconsider.

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

John: Jesus Cleanses the Temple

“Driving of the Merchants from the Temple” by Scarsellino

John: Jesus Cleanses the Temple
A Message on John 2:13-22
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 5, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 2:13-22 (NRSV)

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

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Today in continuing our sermon series on the Gospel of John we look at a scripture that is somewhat troubling for many Christians.

In reading the Bible we find Jesus to be very loving. He loves those that have been cast to the edges of society at the time, teaches about loving not only our neighbors, but our enemies as well.

We discover that God is love, and Jesus, being God, is therefore love as well.

We develop what I call a “happy-clappy” perception of Jesus

Knowing all of that it can be unsettling for us as we read the scriptures today that tell of Jesus cleansing the temple. Here we read of this man of love, this son of God, who gets upset and is… well… semi-violent, turning tables over and driving people and animals out of the temple with a whip. A whip, for crying out loud! Yikes!

This event is recorded in all four gospels, which makes it very significant. It happens toward the end of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) but toward the beginning of the Gospel of John, which is the one we read today.

In the three synoptic gospels, the scriptures say that Jesus drove out the money changers and the animals but doesn’t mention a whip. Only the Gospel of John does this.

Some people believe that Jesus used the whip just for the animals. I’m not fully convinced of that, however. Here’s why.

Jesus was upset at the people that had set up what amounted to a marketplace at the Temple. The Jewish people were called to come to the Temple at appointed times to bring their offerings and things for sacrifices.

There are five types of offerings in the Old Testament: the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the purification offering, and the reparation offering.

Each one of those offerings require giving something to be sacrificed. It might be an animal such as a bull, goat, sheep, or even a dove or pigeon, or bread or grain. But you can’t make an offering if you have nothing to give.

Okay, so now that we have a better understanding of the sacrificial system we can get a better understanding of what Jesus was doing, and why, according to John, he made a whip and I believe used it against those selling things and exchanging money in the temple.

One reason people give for thinking Jesus made the whip for the animals is the wording in John’s gospel: “…he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle.”

But I think there is more to it than that. I think he went after the people as well as the animals. One reason I think that is because of the description: a whip of cords.

Now growing up on a farm we used to use whips (humanely, by the way), including bullwhips. Bullwhips are single tailed whips which, ironically, are not used to whip animals. Instead in the hands of a skilled cowboy the end of the whip actually breaks the sound barrier, making a loud “crack” which is actually a mini sonic boom! It is this noise that the animals react to and the cowboy uses to turn or drive animals. The whip never touches the animal.

Of all the whips I’ve seen used with livestock, however, I have never seen a “whip of cords” used on a ranch.

A whip of cords is used on people. Think of what is called a “cat o’ nine tails” kind of whip. I think Jesus is foreshadowing the fact that those kinds of whips will be used on him before he is crucified.

Another thing important for us to remember is the location of where this is happening: the Temple.

The temple was in Jerusalem, and the Jews believed that it was the place on earth where God lived. People brought sacrifices to the Temple. For many of the Jewish people, doing so meant a long trip. For example, if you were a Jew living in Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, and set out for Jerusalem, you would have a long trip ahead of you.

As the crow flies it’s about 64 miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem. But the Jewish people weren’t crows and they didn’t fly, they walked. Plus there was Samaria in the way, and since the Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along the Jews had to travel an extra distance to go around Samaria in order to get to Jerusalem.

Those who know such things estimate that such a trip would take somewhere between six days to two weeks. So if you were going to Jerusalem to offer your sacrifices, you had quite a journey ahead of you.

So just think of what you would have to carry with you for such a trip. And if you were bringing your own livestock and breads/grains to sacrifice, you would have to wrangle the livestock and haul the bread/grain all that distance with you.

So instead of doing that, many people made the journey to Jerusalem without sacrificial items and then once there they would buy the livestock and bread/grain for their sacrifices. Not only that, but if they had Roman or Greek currency, anything other than the Jewish currency called shekels, they would have to convert their currency into shekels. And while that sounds all fine and dandy, these “money changers” would charge fees for this, and some of those fees were pretty outrageous.

The ones it hurt the worst, of course, were the poor. These folks couldn’t afford cattle, goats, or sheep, so they would have to either bring or purchase doves or pigeons. (And, to be honest, if I’m poor and actually end up catching a pigeon, the odds are very high that I’m having squab for supper!

So the poor folks, who couldn’t afford bulls or sheep or goats, would bring what little money they had to buy doves or pigeons. (Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, were poor folks as they brought doves to the temple eight days after Jesus was born for him to be circumcised and consecrated.)

And just like buying food at Six Flags or Disneyworld, the prices at the Temple for a dove or pigeon were much higher simply due to the demand. They could charge more because they could get away with it. And if you had some currency other than Jewish currency you had to pay for an exchange rate on top of the purchase of the birds, so the poor folks got a double whammy.

Now let me be clear that this scripture is not speaking against making money. No. After all, the Bible says not to muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain. What this scripture IS speaking against is taking advantage of others in order to make money, and especially those coming to worship God.

So when Jesus sees all this taking place at the Temple he gets upset. Very upset. He gets mad! So he makes a whip and drives both the animals and the people out, turning tables over and causing quite the commotion.

So, did Jesus lose his temper? I think it’s pretty clear that he did. Did his “losing it” count as a sin against him? No, I don’t think it does. Then how does his cleansing the temple with a whip reflect on his ministry and all the good things he did?

I want to introduce you to a term called “righteous indignation,” also sometimes referred to as “righteous anger.”

So, what is it? It is outrage, or anger, that is right and justified. Wikipedia defines it as “typically a reactive emotion of anger over mistreatment, insult, or malice of another. It is akin to what is called the sense of injustice.”

Now a lot of us grew up believing that to be angry is a sin. I’m one of them. If I get mad at someone I need to control that anger because it’s a sin, right? Actually, there are instances when it is not.

Let me give you an example. Say you go to a grocery store, and as you are walking in the parking lot you see someone roughly push an elderly lady down, grab her purse, and take off running.

Would you be angry with the person that did that? You bet! I would be furious!

That is righteous indignation. That is anger towards a person who took advantage of someone much weaker than themself. And such anger is not a sin.

Jesus cleansing the Temple is often used as an example of righteous indignation. He is angered that the vendors and money changers are taking advantage of those coming to worship God. He is mad that the people ripping others off are desecrating the Temple, which is supposed to be holy and where God resides on earth. He is righteously angry, and in John’s gospel he takes things into his own hands–literally–by flipping over tables and putting a whip to those who failed to treat the Temple as holy and reverent.

So how does this apply to us today? Is it okay for us as Christians to be righteously angry? Yes, absolutely!

Our daughter Emily has been with us this past week, and so Friday night she got our TV online so that we could watch the musical, “Hamilton.” I had heard about the play, of course, (I don’t live under that big of a rock.) and I was kind of like “meh” about watching it. But I love history and was interested in how it treated the historical events of the founding of our nation, which we celebrated yesterday with July 4 celebrations.

From my history classes I remembered Aaron Burr as being in a dual and killing somebody, but I had forgotten who. (And if I’m completely honest, a lot of what I know about Aaron Burr came from the original “Got Milk?” commercial years ago where the guy is eating a peanut butter sandwich when he gets a phone call from a radio station trivia contest asking the question who shot Alexander Hamilton. The guy has all sorts of historical memorabilia around about the dual and tries to say “Aaron Burr” but can’t because of the peanut butter sandwich in his mouth.)

In the Hamilton musical (spoiler alert!) Burr and Hamilton face off against each other in a duel. Pistols at 10 paces. At the count of 10 Hamilton turns and raises his hand straight up in the air and fires his pistol straight up, refusing to take aim at Burr. (In actuality Hamilton shot a tree branch high above Burr’s head, aiming there on purpose. That’s what really happened, but you know show business…)

Burr, however, aims his pistol at Hamilton and fires, striking him and mortally wounding him. Hamilton dies the next day.

I found that I experienced righteous anger at Burr for shooting the man that refused to shoot at him. And the musical points out that for Burr, the killing of Hamilton would follow him the rest of his life and leave a stain on his legacy.

Christians should experience righteous indignation, righteous anger.

If someone is treated negatively simply because of the color of their skin, which is called racism, we should have righteous anger.

If someone wants to kill police officers simply because they are police officers, we should have righteous anger.

If someone takes advantage of those who are poor or down and out, we should have righteous anger.

If someone physically assaults someone, or even goes so far as to kill them, we should have righteous anger.

If someone steals money or other items from another, we should have righteous anger.

If one country invades another country just so it can expand its territory, we should have righteous anger.

You get the idea. There are times that we, as Christians, should be righteously angry.

However, (and this is a big “however”), we have to be very careful that in our anger we respond by not saying or doing something that is not Christlike.

In the example I gave earlier of the purse snatcher, we should have righteous anger. But what if as a response to that anger I run the purse snatcher down, tackle him/her, and commence to use my fists to pummel them and just beat the thunder out of them. Is that a Christian response to righteous anger?

I hope you said no. “No” is the correct answer, by the way. Now if you’re like me that might be what you want to do to the thief. But even though our human side wants to do that, it’s not the Christian thing to do. Now I think it would be okay to chase them, to try to apprehend them and hold them until the police arrive. That is a good, Christian thing to do, as well as checking on the elderly woman that got pushed down, but you shouldn’t beat the thunder out of them, even though you may want to.

We should heed the words that the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.”

Jesus was angry but did not sin when he cleansed the temple. He was mad, there’s no doubt about that, but he did not sin. Being God he could have sent some lightning bolts down and vaporized the people selling animals and the money changers, but he didn’t. He chased them out but didn’t sin in doing so.

So my challenge to you this week is to remember the difference between anger and righteous anger. Remember that it’s not always a sin to be angry, but that we should always respond in a way that reflects the love and grace of Christ.

And if you are eating a peanut butter sandwich and get a telephone call from a radio trivia contest asking the question who shot Alexander Hamilton, be sure you have a glass of milk ready.

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

John: Troubled

Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
A Message on John 14: 1-7, “Troubled”
By Rev. Bonnie Osteen
June 28, 2020

Jesus the Way to the Father
14‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ 5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

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There is so much content in these few short verses. There’s worry, rooms, dwelling places, mansions, doubt, the way, the truth, the life, eternal life, and more. And we often hear this scripture to bring us comfort.

We start off with ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’ and from there we dive into the reasons why our hearts should not be troubled.
What? Troubled heart?
My heart is troubled because we can’t have worship like we used to have.
My heart is troubled because I need to wear a mask to keep others healthy, and maybe me too, and social distance, and wash hands.
My heart is troubled with the racism in this world.
My heart is troubled with what school will look like in the fall.
My heart is troubled with whether I will have a job in these next few weeks.
My heart is troubled because I don’t want to social distance.
My heart is troubled because I’m mad.
My heart is troubled because I don’t like what someone said or what someone did.
My heart is troubled because we have hungry children.
We know what it means to be “troubled”: It’s the opposite of being peaceful, calm, serene, at ease, or comforted. To be “troubled” is to have inward commotion which causes you to become agitated and restless.

Jesus gives the solution for troubled hearts. Have faith in Jesus. So, you may be wondering if I’m saying, “If your heart is troubled over the things I just mentioned, then you may not have faith in Jesus?”
Well, yes, I am saying that. Not that any of those things aren’t important, but the first part of the statement is what shows where our heart is, is it troubled?
All of our prayers and our studies about following Jesus, obeying Jesus, loving Jesus, trusting Jesus go right out the window, when we say, “Our hearts are troubled.” I will admit it is difficult to have faith in God. We often think we can do a much better job. But our ultimate goal is to have faith in Christ. Jesus reveals the truth of God and the life that is found in God. Then, we have the choice to live in the way of Jesus, which is not worry.

We hear the disciples were troubled. It is Jesus’ final night with his disciples before the cross. Jesus has identified Judas as the betrayer and is left with the other eleven apostles. He stated he would be killed. He even predicted that Peter would deny him – three times! He has washed their feet, and given them a new command, telling them to love one another as Jesus has loved them. He tells them that he is going away and where he is going, they cannot come. Peter wants to know why they cannot follow him, and Jesus responds by asking if they are ready to lay down their lives for him. This is where we pick up in the account as we begin John 14. Since they had come to value Jesus’ words and truthfulness, the disciples were disturbed. Certainly, the disciples had reason to be troubled.
The combination of fear and despair were overwhelming. From our perspective they had every right to be agitated. And they couldn’t understand it, let alone control it. This dear man, Jesus, whom they believed was the Messiah, was saying “good-bye.”
So, we go back to look at ourselves. What troubles you? What thoughts about the present and the future worry you? What from the past still has a hold on you – your sins, failures, feelings of inadequacy? What fears block your sense of peace? All these things, and here Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus was addressing our minds, our hearts, and the focus of our faith.

So, we too can trust. We are familiar with troubled hearts. We know all about troubled hearts. That’s why Jesus calls us to deepen our connection with Him. As Jesus met the disciples at their point of pain and agitation, Jesus meets us at our trouble.
So, Jesus tells us, “You trust in God; trust also in me.”
So why trust Jesus? We can hold onto our faith because Jesus is trustworthy.
He said one of the disciples would betray Him; Judas did. He said Peter would deny Him three times; He did. He said He was going to die; He did. He said He would rise and live again; He did. He said He would go – ascend – and be with the Father; He did. He said He would send His Spirit; He did. We can hold on to our faith because Jesus is trustworthy.

The Psalmist put it this way
I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

What is the Way, The Truth, the Life, and why should that convince me to ‘not be troubled’?
I can just imagine the sigh of relief as their weights of worry and fear subsided.
Now, was Jesus telling his disciples that nothing bad would happen to them? Did Jesus tell them that everything was going to be ok and that they would live a life of total bliss? The answer is no…
Jesus was reminding them, and reminding us today, that even when life may get tough and the future unsure, that they, and we, can trust God.

When we really trust Jesus, what do we have to be troubled about? The reason the disciples were so stirred up is that they were not trusting in Jesus’ promise and his Power.
And they had not seen the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. But we have! Jesus says: “Believe in me! Trust in Me! Live in Me! Live for Me!” We too need to listen to Jesus’ challenge to believe in God and him. It’s the ultimate cure for troubled hearts.
Beyond the initial experience of trusting him as Savior, it becomes a daily thing for us. This involves placing our lives under his complete control. Jesus must be Lord of every area of our life. No matter the circumstance, we must trust him to do in our lives what’s best. Our belief in him comes alive by believing his word, praying, supporting the work of his church and sharing this love with others.
And this is really the foundation for finding peace to get through these tough times.

All the other things that he said depend on this one thing – Trust in him.
Faith is knowing that God is with you through all things. Trust is believing that God fulfills his promises.
Thank you, Jesus, for giving us the gift of faith.

John: The Father

John: The Father
A Message on John 12:44-50
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 21, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 12:44-50 (NRSV)

Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. 47 I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, 49 for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.”

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Today we are continuing our sermon series exploring the Gospel of John by looking at the 12th chapter and the relationship between Jesus and the Father.

If we back up in the 12 chapter we find Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as well as Jesus talking about his death. So Jesus’ time with the disciples is getting short, and he uses that time to continue to teach the disciples. In the NRSV version there is a subheading for the scripture we read today that describes it as a “Summary of Jesus’ Teaching.”

We’re looking at this today because today is Father’s Day, the holiday where we honor and recognize fathers.

Now I want to be clear that it is important for us to remember that even though Jesus calls God the Father that God is beyond gender assignments. God is neither male or female. God is God, not a particular gender. That being said, however, we also can’t simply ignore the words of Jesus as he describes his relationship with God.

So why does Jesus refer to God as the Father if God is neither male or female?

I think a lot of it goes back to the culture of the time. Throughout the Old Testament and even at the time of Jesus the family structure focused on the father.

In the Epic of Eden bible study that we have been doing (and are still doing) Sandra Richter goes into much detail about the family unit in the Old Testament. She points out that the basic household unit of the Israelites was called the “father’s house(hold),” which in Hebrew is called the bêt ʾāb.

In the bêt ʾāb the father was the head of the family, and not only immediate family but extended family as well. For example, if the father and his wife have sons, it was expected that when the sons married they and their brides would reside in the father’s household. If they had daughters then the daughters, when they married, would become part of their husband’s father’s bêt ʾāb.

These family units were the foundation of Israelite culture and society. The father provided shelter, protection, and sustenance (food). Fathers were very important then, and I contend that fathers are still important now.

So it would make sense for Jesus to refer to God in fatherly terms. God, our father, is our bêt ʾāb, providing us with shelter, protection, sustenance, and most importantly, unconditional love.

In verses 49 and 50 of the scripture we read today, The Message paraphrases it this way: “I’m not making any of this up on my own. The Father who sent me gave me orders, told me what to say and how to say it. And I know exactly what his command produces: real and eternal life. That’s all I have to say. What the Father told me, I tell you.” John 12:49-50

We also have to remember that in Matthew and in Luke, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he gave them what we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer. And the first words of the Lord’s prayer are, “Our Father…”

And in several places in the New Testament we find Jesus referring to God as “Abba, Father.” This term, “Abba,” does not refer to a Swedish pop music group (that’s a different Abba), but is an Aramaic term of endearment. It would be like the way we use the words “daddy,” or “Poppa,” or as Fernanda pointed out during the children’s message, “Papa” in Spanish.

It is a term used to describe a close, loving relationship. It is, indeed, a term of endearment.

Here are some other things the Bible says about fathers:

“As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.” Psalm 103:13

“And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

“Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” Psalm 68:5

It’s important for us to remember that for some people Father’s day is not a pleasant day. Some people may have had an abusive father or a father that was absent from their lives. Yet others, including me, may have had fathers who have passed away and are no longer with us, and Father’s Day is a painful reminder of their dad’s passing.

In those cases I pray they find comfort in the Heavenly Father, available to each person, regardless of their circumstances with their earthly father. And even if your earthly father let you down, I can promise you that your heavenly father will not.

One of the biggest challenges our society faces today is the number of fathers being absent from the home. Now there are a number of reasons for fathers being absent in the home, and I don’t want to make anyone feel bad or guilty if that’s the case. However, fathers in homes are important. There are a number of statistics and studies that provide that data, and the results aren’t good. As a matter of fact, they are downright scary.

As a matter of fact, there is a guy who has set up a YouTube channel aimed specifically at those who don’t have a father in their lives. Called, “Dad, How Do I…” a man named Rob Kenney gives video advice on things that many people would ask their dads in their lives. (Now this isn’t to say mom’s don’t know how to do these things, mind you, but these are things traditionally asked of dads.) Topics include how to change a car battery, how to tie a tie, how to iron a shirt, how to unclog a sink, and how to put up a shelf.

There is such a demand for this type of information that the channel has 2.3 million subscribers. That’s not viewers, but people who have subscribed to the channel. Kenney posts a new video every Thursday and teaches about tools on “Tool Tuesday.”

Kenney’s parents went through a messy divorced when he was a child and he and his siblings lived with his dad, who, he said, “didn’t really want us.”

When Kenney was 14 his dad abandoned him and his seven siblings, forcing Kenney to grow up without a dad. He remembered what that was like and pledged that if he ever had kids he would do things differently.

He did have children of his own and raised them into successful adults. Then during the quarantine this past spring he got the idea to make videos of things he wished his father had taught him. And from April to now he had 2.3 million subscribers sign up for his channel.

Fathers are important, both earthly and fatherly.

Our earthly fathers are important for the way they shape our lives.

My father was a great teacher. He wanted us six kids to know as much as possible about everything. And my dad knew a lot! He was Google before there was Google. Not only was he a country doctor, but built his own house and hospital, was a master woodworker, a rancher, a gardener, an avid reader, and had a strong philosophy in being able to repair things that were broken, no matter what they were.

Dad believed in changing the oil in our vehicles ourselves. I still remember the first time I changed the oil in a vehicle. He had me crawl under our car with a crescent wrench and a pan to catch the oil. He pointed out to me the oil drain plug and told me to put the pan under it and loosen the plug (“Lefty loosey, righty tighty.”) I was only about seven or eight at the time and it was hard to loosen the drain plug, but I finally got it to break loose. I used my fingers to finish unscrewing it and then removed it.

What Dad failed to tell me was that as the oil flowed out it wouldn’t go straight down into the pan, but would come out in an arc. And it did. Right onto my face.

I came out from under that car fast as I could, with oil all over my face. My dad laughed so hard I thought he was going to pass out. He apologized for not telling me about the oil coming out in an arc and helped me get cleaned up. And he told me that even though I was embarrassed by what happened to me that I would always remember it and therefore it would never happen to me again. And he was right. I still remember it, and although now I take my vehicles to Westbrook’s Auto Care and let them change the oil for me, I still remember how to do it. And rest assured, if I ever do it again you can bet my face will be far away when I remove the plug.

Dads teach us great life lessons. And they make us laugh. There’s even a genre of humor that is called “Dad Jokes.”

Here are some examples:
“If a child refuses to sleep during nap time, are they guilty of resisting a rest?”

“Don’t trust atoms. They make up everything!”

“What did the pirate say on his 80th birthday? AYE MATEY”

Yes, you may feel free to groan. But that’s what makes a dad joke!

We need dads that make us laugh. We need dads who protect, dads who provide, dads who teach, dads that love. But most of all, we need godly dads.

Let me show you a graph. This is a few years old, back before COVID-19, but still very relevant. This graph shows what influence the father of a family has on his children attending church. When mom and dad both attend church, then 72 percent of their children will remain faithful to God. If only the dad goes, that percentage is 55 percent. If only the mom attends and the dad does not, only 15 percent of children will remain faithful. If neither the mom nor the dad attend church, that number drops to only 6 percent.

That is a huge difference! If the dad chooses not to attend church, three is only a 15 percent chance that his children will go when they are adults. And if neither parent goes, only 6 percent will attend!

We need more people in church, we need more people following Jeus Christ, but we REALLY need more fathers in church that follow Jesus Christ.

So my challenge to you today, especially for those who are fathers, is to be godly. Believe in Jesus, the light of the world, instead of living in darkness.

And if you want me to teach you how to change the oil in your car, just let me know.

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

John: The Bread of Life

Jane Ball’s Date Pecan Bread

John: Bread
A Message on John 6:22-35
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 14, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 6:22-35 (NRSV)

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

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I love bread. All kinds of bread. Rustic whole wheat bread, French bread (Oui!), baguettes, tortillas (both corn and flour), pita, naan, potato bread, rye, pumpernickel, Hawaiian bread (the official communion bread of United Methodists), sourdough (oh, I have a special fondness for sourdough!), banana bread, brioche, challah (a Jewish bread that is braided), ciabatta, cornbread, and even biscuits! And I’m sure there are others I am leaving out!

Here’s a photo of a bread (see above) that our friend up in Longview, Jane Ball, made. It’s a sourdough date pecan bread. Yum!

I like bread so much that, to paraphrase Will Rogers, I don’t think I’ve ever met a bread I didn’t like.

I don’t think I am alone, either. Raise your hand if you got hungry when I mentioned all those kinds of breads. See! I’m not alone.

Bread is an important part of our lives, isn’t it. And the smell of fresh bread cooking can bring back memories of times and loved ones past. A while back our daughter Emily made some from-scratch cinnamon rolls using my grandmother’s recipe. When they were baking the smell was so wonderful and took me back to my grandmother’s house when I was a kid. And they tasted just like my grandmother’s as well!

Bread is a very significant part of our lives today and it has been that way for thousands and thousands of years. Bread is an ancient food, and today we are going to explore its social and theological significance as we continue our summer sermon series on the Gospel of John.

We find bread mentioned a lot in the Old Testament. The first mention of it that I could find is in the third chapter of Genesis, where Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden of Eden for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God tells Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19

Unleavened bread, or bread that has no yeast in it, became very significant to the Hebrew people during the Exodus as they left slavery in Egypt and became a nation of their own. Because they left Egypt in such haste their bread didn’t have time to rise, so they grabbed what they had and made unleavened bread to eat. As it says in Exodus 12:34, “So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders.”

Thereafter the Hebrew people were to eat unleavened bread during the Passover every year to remember their escape from Egypt.

In the desert, when Moses went to God on their behalf, God provided manna, the bread from heaven. Manna, which means “What is it?” would come down each night like dew, and the people would gather it and eat it.

After wandering in the desert for 40 years, the people entered the promised land and its crops of wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and other grains. There God stopped providing manna and the people once again made and ate bread.

We find bread being an important part of worship in the tabernacle for the Hebrew people. Leviticus lists the ways bread was to be used in offerings, and it was used a lot! People would bring bread, or sometimes flour, and give it to the priest for an offering, specifically grain offerings and sin offerings.

Bread was so important to the worship of God that in the tabernacle, on a gold table, the high priest placed 12 loaves of bread every sabbath day. Called “The Bread of Presence,” it was arranged in two rows of six loaves, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. At the end of the week new, fresh loaves replaced the existing loaves, and the priests ate the “old” bread.

In addition to its religious significance it was a significant food source for the people. It’s hard for us to really wrap our minds around just how important bread was on a daily basis for the Hebrew people. If we want bread we go to Walmart or the grocery store and buy it. Even during the recent COVID-19 shortages bread was pretty much available, with some exceptions. We just take it for granted.

But in the ancient world it was far from taken for granted. It was a significant source of carbohydrates for the people and because it kept for quite a while after it was cooked it was a portable source of food for those traveling or roaming with livestock.

Most towns and villages had a common oven that multiple families used to cook their bread, and they would do so on a daily basis. Some were leavened, or bread that had yeast in it and therefore rose, or unleavened, bread that did not have yeast in it which are sometimes called “flatbreads.”

Bread was super important in the Old Testament, not only for religious purposes, but also just in matters of survival.

As we move into the New Testament we find bread still used for religious purposes as well. The same sacrifices were being made, at the temple in Jerusalem now instead of the tabernacle, and the religious observances, such as the feast of the Passover, made use of bread.

In today’s reading in the Gospel of John we find bread taking on increased religious significance. If we back up to the beginning of the 6th chapter of John we find Jesus performing the miracle of feeding 5,000 people with just two fish and five barley loaves, taking up 12 baskets of leftovers. (Twelve baskets, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve disciples? Hmmmm.)

So the crowd is pressing in on Jesus and he can tell they are wanting to “take him by force to make him king,” Jesus goes up to the mountain to try to find some solitude.

The disciples go down to the shore and then, when it is nighttime, they get in a boat to cross the sea to go to Capernaum. They start rowing across when the winds really start whipping up and the sea becomes rough. They struggle but aren’t making much headway, only about three or four miles, when they see a figure coming toward them walking on the top of the water.

This really freaks them out until Jesus speaks out and identifies himself, then they take him into the boat and unlike other narratives where the wind and waves die down, in John’s Gospel they miraculously find themselves on the shore at their destination.

That’s where we pick up the story in the scripture we read today. The people can’t find Jesus, see a boat missing, and so they get in boats and travel across the sea to Capernaum as well.

When they find Jesus they ask him, “When did you get here?” and he responds, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.” John 6:26, The Message

He goes on to tell them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

Here Jesus uses a metaphor to describe himself and his teachings. He points out that most food perishes, or it eventually goes bad.

Pam and I kind of have an ongoing debate in our house as to the significance of the “Best By” dates that are put on food. One of us takes a hard and fast rule when it comes to those dates, and if the date has passed, the item goes in the trash. The other person views those dates as sorta flexible, that if you bought it by that specific date that it is probably still good if it still smells okay. (Can you guess which one is which?)

Jesus tells his listeners that food on the earth has expiration dates. It eventually goes bad. But that the food that he gives does not. It lasts forever. And the Son of Man, meaning himself, will give it to him.

But the people still aren’t convinced. They ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

Now this to me is an interesting question because Jesus wasn’t talking about the works of God. So maybe this is just something they have on their mind.

So he answers them: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Or as The Message paraphrases it, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.”

The people then ask for proof, that Jesus give them some sort of sign, some sort of miracle, so that they may know Jesus is telling the truth. They ask him what kind of works he is doing that proves what he is saying is true.

Now we need to remember that these are the same people that the day before witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fishes. They have already seen Jesus perform a miracle, but yet are asking for another one.

I think that is kind of representative of human nature. We want to believe, and yet even when we God at work in our world we are still skeptical and want further proof. We want miracles and signs on our terms, don’t we. How stubborn we are to believe what God has already shown us isn’t enough.

The people addressing Jesus then pull some Old Testament on him, keeping with the bread metaphor by talking about the manna that God provided their ancestors as they wandered in the desert. I think they are challenging Jesus to do the same thing, right then and there. Sort of saying, “Okay, if you are really the Son of God, then make it rain manna!”

But Jesus doesn’t take the bait. “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:32-33

Here’s The Message paraphrase of that response: “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.”

Their response is “Sir, give us this bread always.”

So Jesus responds, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35

Bread and drink. Sounds kinda like the Lord’s Supper, doesn’t it? I think it is Jesus foreshadowing what will happen at the Lord’s Supper although ironically in John’s gospel (13th chapter) John doesn’t describe Jesus’ last meal with the disciples the same way that Matthew, Mark, and Luke do. Instead John focuses on Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.

And we can’t forget that Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s prayer, which includes the words, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” So much religious significance in that one sentence!

So how can we apply this to today’s world? Is it even relevant to today’s world with everything that is going on?

I believe that it is. I believe it is even more needed in the world today than ever.

The world needs the bread of life today. The world is hungry for the true bread of life.

You see our society has been eating a diet of junk food filled with all kinds of chemicals and artificial ingredients. We have consumed mass quantities of selfishness, greed, lust, racism, materialism, and hate, just to name a few. We eat it because it is convenient, ready-to-eat, and cheap. We engorge ourselves on it, falling to temptation. And eating all that “junk food” has given us indigestion, a pain in our gut that is eating away at our soul and making us spiritually sick.

What we need is to change our diet. We need to throw away all of the junk food of our lives and feast on the bread of life. We need to knead the dough of the bread of life by using our muscles of spiritual disciplines and staying focused on God. We need to limit the ingredients in our lives when it comes to social media, the 24-hour news cycle, and those things that stunt our spiritual growth. We need to live our lives so that they become an aroma pleasing to God. We need to resist the temptations of the world and instead look forward to the heavenly feast prepared for us by our Father in heaven.

You get the idea? Jesus is the bread of life, and it is through his death and resurrection that we no longer have to sacrifice flour or bread for the forgiveness of our sins. We no longer have to shed the blood of animals because Jesus shed his blood.

Whoever comes to Jesus–and he is available to everyone, by the way, even people you may not like–will never hunger or thirst. And this is not something that we should keep to ourselves, but share with others. We should tell them what the bread of life has done in our lives and what it can do in theirs.

There is a world of hungry people that need the bread of life. So my challenge to you this week is that whenever you eat bread this week, no matter what kind of bread it is, remember that Jesus is the bread of life. And remember to tell someone about the bread so that they, too, may no longer hunger or thirst.

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

Change: Discernment

Change: Discernment
A Message on Acts 2:1-21
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
May 31, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Peter Addresses the Crowd
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

<> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><>

Today is Pentecost, known as the birthday of the church. It is the celebration of the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples as was promised by the Old Testament prophets as well as Jesus before his crucifixion.

Now for the disciples Pentecost was a harvest festival, known as the Festival of Weeks, and was celebrated seven weeks and one day after the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread that we read about in Deuteronomy 16:9. It was also, according to Exodus 23:16, known as the Feast of Harvest and in Exodus 34:22 we find it is the festival of the wheat harvest.

Because it is seven weeks and one day, which if you’re good at math you can figure out equals 50 days, it was called Pentecost. A pentagram has five sides, right? So Pentecost is 50 days.

The disciples were gathered together for this Jewish festival. They would have been in Jerusalem and either in or near the temple. It had been 49 days since Jesus’ resurrection from the grave and the disciples, while no longer hiding behind closed doors, were still trying to figure out how to be a follower of Jesus Christ with Jesus no longer earthly present. They still considered themselves to be Jewish and observed the Jewish festivals, so they gathered together for this harvest festival.

When the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples at Pentecost it also is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that he had made while with the disciples. Here is an example from the gospel of John:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” John 14:15-17

Later in the 14th chapter, Jesus says this: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” John 14:25-26

In the Gospel of Luke we find John the Baptist offering this prophecy: “John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’” Luke 3:16

Even in the Old Testament scriptures we find prophecies about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Here’s an example from Joel:

“Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” Joel 2:28-29

And here is this from Isaiah: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground, I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring.” Isaiah 44:3

And here’s one more from Ezekiel: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” Ezekiel 36:26-27

So the promised coming of the Holy Spirit was something that the disciples had to be aware of, especially with Jesus telling them about it. But they didn’t know when or how this would happen… until Pentecost.

And wow, did God show up in a big way! Supernatural things started happening. A loud sound like the rushing of wind filled the place. Tongues of fire appeared above the disciples heads, creating a visual phenomenon to match the auditory one.

And all the disciples started speaking several different languages. As our scripture tells us there was quite the multicultural crowd present in Jerusalem. Pentecost was one of three religious festivals each year that Jewish men were expected to attend in Jerusalem. The temple was in Jerusalem, and so people traveled from a wide geographical area to be in Jerusalem 50 days after the Passover.

Now notice that the disciples spoke these languages “as the spirit gave them ability.” Now the disciples probably knew a couple of languages, including Hebrew (the language the Torah was written in and that Jewish worship was conducted in), Aramaic, and Greek. But we’re talking a lot more languages than that! (At least that’s what I believe.) They were speaking languages they didn’t know, and were doing so through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Now here’s something interesting to note, and that is what the disciples were saying in all the different languages. We find it at the end of verse 11: “…we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

So the disciples were speaking all these different languages and telling of the great things God has done.

So, what does this have to do with change, and specifically discernment?

Here’s the way I see it. In the crowd at Pentecost were two types of people. The first kind we have already talked about, the people who heard the disciples speaking their language and were amazed, knowing that God was doing something amazing.

And then you have another group. This group wasn’t impressed with what was happening with the disciples. As a matter of fact, they made fun of them, the NRSV says they “sneered” at them, and said, “They are filled with new wine.” In other words, the disciples were acting unusual because they were drunk.

So we have two completely different impressions of what was happening on that day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. How in the world can we have such different views of what was happening with the disciples? How can we have one group believing they were witnessing a miracle from God, and another group that thought the disciples were drunk. That’s quite the disparity!

This is where I think discernment comes in. I think it was how people discerned what was happening that gave them the impressions they had about what was going on.

I saw a video on YouTube recently about how we as humans discern stories on social media. It seems we have a predilection, a bias, for news stories that support our opinions and views on a particular subject.

Let me see if I can explain with an example, let’s say the Coronavirus pandemic we are in. Let’s say that your personal opinion is that this virus isn’t as bad as everyone says it is. When you see news and social media stories about the virus, you will tend to believe the stories that present the information in a way that supports what you believe. You believe those to be true. The stories that present the virus as a very serious situation with the potential for many illnesses and death you tend to disregard as not true.

The same thing is true if you believe the opposite way. The stories about the seriousness of the virus you will believe to be true, and the stories about how it’s not that dangerous you will believe to be untrue.

It’s called confirmation bias. In our discernment process we tend to believe those things that confirm what we already believe, and disregard those things that go against what we believe.

I think that at Pentecost we see confirmation bias at work in the people who thought the disciples were drunk. They didn’t like the disciples and their belief that Jesus of Nazareth was the messiah, and certainly didn’t believe that he rose from the dead. So their perception bias, their discernment, kept them from viewing the supernatural events as being from God. They believed what they wanted to believe.

Okay, so let’s pause for a second and define what discernment actually is. In normal language it means “the ability to judge well.” Synonyms include judgement, discrimination, and perceptiveness.

But there is a somewhat different definition when it comes to Christianity. The definition here is “perception in the absence of judgement with a view to obtaining spiritual guidance and understanding.”

That’s what is called spiritual discernment. I think that’s what the people who were amazed at the disciples at Pentecost had, and it’s what those who sneered at them and thought they were drunk did not have.

When it comes to change, which there is certainly a lot of nowadays, discernment is a good thing to have. And spiritual discernment is a VERY good thing to have.

Our country is in need of discernment. The death of George Floyd at the hands of police, and the destruction and looting in response both show a need for people to have discernment, on all sides. George Floyd’s death is a tragedy and we should lift our voices for justice, but the destruction and looting of cities, including many businesses owned by minorities, is also a tragedy.

So many people in our country have lost their moral compasses, and we need to work, to discern, both regular discernment and spiritual discernment, the way back to what is right and true and loving.

Okay, so let’s talk about spiritual discernment. How does one develop spiritual discernment? Good question. I’m glad you asked.

I think one of the best ways to develop spiritual discernment is to practice spiritual disciplines. These include Bible study and reading, prayer, regular worship attendance, sacrificial giving, performing works of charity, Christian conferencing (meeting with accountability groups), and seeking justice for people from all walks of life. (The need for that last one has become very evident this past week up in Minneapolis.)

I believe when you practice the spiritual disciplines that it calibrates your spiritual discernment radar so that you are more receptive to the workings of the Holy Spirit. When you live your life close to God, it’s a lot easier to discern the Holy Spirit’s actions.

Now I believe it is the power of the Holy Spirit that provides spiritual discernment, but practicing the spiritual disciplines paves the way for that discernment. It’s like if you were going to plant a garden, you wouldn’t just go throw seeds on top of the ground. You have to first work the ground, plowing or tilling it, removing weeds, making sure it drains properly and has the proper fertilizer.

I believe that the spiritual disciplines prepare the ground for the planting of the Holy Spirit, and that they pull the weeds and water and nurture the seeds that are planted so that they grow and bear fruit.

Just as an athlete has to train in order to perform at peak ability, so we must also work our spiritual discipline muscles in order to be at peak spiritual discernment.

Jesus promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and that happened at Pentecost. All the things that Jesus had taught them that had confused them started making sense through the spiritual discernment given to them through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ life, his teachings, his holy words about what would happen to him after his death and resurrection, and how those actions provide forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, all became much clearer to the disciples after Pentecost. The Holy Spirit gave them the gift of spiritual discernment.

So my challenge to you this week as we celebrate Pentecost today is to improve your spiritual discernment. In these days of change it is a great skill to have. Practice the spiritual disciplines so that the Holy Spirit may take root and grow in your life, giving you spiritual discernment as one of its fruits.

That way when the Holy Spirit moves mightily among God’s people, you won’t think they are drunk.

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