What Does God Want From Me?

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 29, 2023

Scriptures: Micah 6:1-8; Ps 15; 1 Cor 1:18-31; Matt 5:1-12

I heard an interesting, true story this week: A high school student I know—Jake–was called down to the office and told another kid—Sam–had accused him of bringing drugs to school to sell. Now Sam had been caught red-handed with illegal substances. When the school authorities asked where Sam got the drugs, he falsely named Jake. They brought Jake in, told him what he had been accused of, and searched him. Jake defended himself by saying he doesn’t do drugs and he certainly would neither bring them to school nor sell them. Because they had Sam’s story 1st, the authorities seemed reluctant to believe Jake. They frisked him and searched his locker and backpack but found nothing. Finally, they let Jake return to class yet would not tell him the name of the student who had falsely accused him.

The grown-ups must have forgotten that this is a small town. Word got out—as it generally always does–and Jake learned the identity of his accuser. Jake’s parents were furious at Sam—and wanted to address the matter with Sam’s parents straight away–but Jake asked them to let him handle the situation. Jake calmly confronted Sam, asking him why he had lied about him. Sam “stone-walled,” would not answer Jake, and would not give him eye-contact.

I was appalled when I heard this and I wondered if this is indicative of the value system of most teens today. Jake, a Christian, has taken a wise stance: he is now praying for his false-accuser…Praying that Sam would come to know Jesus; and Praying that Sam would regret lying and trying to get an innocent person into trouble. I commend him and would only add my hope that Sam comes to know the 10 Commandments—bearing false witness is #9.

Thinking about this incident over the last few days, I realized Jake’s response is right out of our Micah 6:1-8 lesson, as well as our psalm and Gospel:

The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah in Judea, and of Amos and Hosea in Samaria, during the 8th century BC. It was a time of great prosperity and wealth in Judah. It was also a time of extensive apostasy. Political corruption was rampant; the rich and powerful felt free to exploit those who were weaker; and many had fallen away from God.

When they did worship Him, their worship was pro-forma, mind-less and rote. Mostly, they just went through the motions. And their moral behavior was despicable. Actually, they were behaving a lot like modern Americans today.

So God appointed Micah as a “whistle-blower” to his time period. His job was to challenge the people on their arrogance, dishonesty, and hypocrisy. He was also tasked with warning them of the judgment to come if they did not turn back to the Lord.

Chapter 6:1-8 forms the climax of Micah’s prophesy: He portrays God as confronting Judah, as though they were adversaries in a court of law.

Listen to Peterson’s paraphrase (The Message) of verses 1-2–Take your stand in court. If you have a complaint, tell the mountains [powerful nations]; make your case to the hills [smaller. Less influential nations]. And now, Mountains, hear God’s case; listen, Jury Earth—For I am bringing charges against My people, I am building a case against Israel. God is telling the world to watch and listen.

But instead of going on the offensive, God asks what He is guilty of that His people have all but abandoned Him. He reminds them of their salvation history with Him:

(1) He has rescued them slavery in Egypt.

(2) He provided them with good leaders like Moses, Aaron and Miriam.

(3) When the king of Moab, Balak, hired the false prophet Balaam to curse them, God protected them by blocking any curses.

(4) He also provided for them when Joshua assumed leadership from Moses (at Shittim), and protected them at Gilgal as they recovered from circumcision. (They had not circumcised anyone on the wilderness march, so all the adult males now needed to take the sign of their covenant with God. Doing so required about 3 days recovery time when they would have been too vulnerable to resist an enemy attack). God had been faithful while they have been faithless.

Then the prophet anticipates the people’s response to God’s indictment: (verses 6-7) —Should we bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves? Would God be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil? Would He be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin? They are essentially asking, “What do we do to make amends to God?” “Is God mad because we didn’t do enough?” “Should we do more to try to please Him?” But God does not want extravagant offerings from us. As if we can do something for God! A much later generation will ask the same thing of Jesus, and He will answer (John 6:28-29) —This is the work of God [that you can do], that you believe in Him Whom He has sent [faith in Jesus]. All we can do, and the best we can do, is to have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

And in verse 8, Micah summarizes the issue: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Listen to the way Peterson paraphrases it: But He’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what GOD is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.

They are dwelling in darkness, as are many in our country today. . Psalm 15: 2-3 says [Those who please God are] the one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does not wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others. Sam’s behavior demonstrates he is dwelling in darkness. The folks back then—much like many “religious” folks today–are focusing on external religious practices, while neglecting their internal experience of God. They need to know and relate to God’s heart.

So what does Micah mean in verse 8? This side of the Cross, we know that we must believe in Jesus to be saved. What God wants from us is to demonstrate our faith by living a life that pleases Him:

(1) To act justly means to do what is right and truthful in God’s eyes. Sam lied to get the focus off himself—he threw Jake under the bus. If Sam had acted justly, he would have admitted his own fault and left Jake out of it. To act justly means exhibiting honest practices in business; not cheating on your taxes or your spouse; giving your employer a full day’s work for a full day’s pay (and employers should give their workers the pay they have earned; playing by the rules in sports and cards, etc; in other words, doing the right thing in God’s eyes.

(2) To love mercy means to offer others grace—i.e., treat them better than they deserve. Justice is a great starting point, but it’s not enough. Grace is Jake forgiving Sam for having tried to ruin his reputation and get him into trouble. God has saved us, through Jesus, when we did not deserve it. We offer grace to others because Jesus offered/offers it to us.

(3) To walk humbly with our God means to do God’s will instead of our own. Humility says “God made me and He knows what is best for me. I’m not as smart as He is, so I will submit to Him and follow His will.” Pride, on the other hand, says, “I’m in charge of me and I will do what I want to do.” It puts self ahead of God. In fact, it makes self a god instead of the One Who is God. Prideful people lack a “teachable spirit.” They are unwilling to admit they don’t always know what is best and are therefore unwilling to listen to someone who might be wiser or more experienced.

No wonder God says in Isaiah 66:2–But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My Word.

No wonder Jesus lists humility of spirit as the 1st characteristic to be blessed in the Beatitudes of Matthew. As Peterson phrases it, You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule.

So what’s God want from me, from us? What defines a life that pleases God? First, we must have faith in His Son, Jesus. Next, we try to live a life that is characterized by the following: Acting honestly and rightly; offering grace to others, even when they don’t appear to deserve it; and being humble with regard to God, remembering to be grateful to Him for all of His blessings, and to be obedient to Him, even when it’s hard. I believe Jake pleased God when he confronted Sam face-to-face, rather than castigating him on social media. This righteous behavior took courage and humility. That young man certainly set an example for Sam, and for us.

May we all remember to act justly, offer grace/mercy to others, and walk humbly with our God! Amen!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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The Antidote to Isolation and Alienation

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 22, 2023

Scriptures: Isa 9:1-4; Ps 27:1-9; 1 Cor 1:10-18; Matt 4:12-23

John Fairless and Delmer Chilton, of “Two Bubba’s and a Bible” fame share the following story:

“Back in the 1980’s there was a man named Larry Trapp living in Lincoln, Nebraska. His name was doubly ironic: He was a man trapped in his own hatred and trapped in his own body. Larry Trapp was suffering from a fatal disease and was confined to a wheel chair; he was nearly blind; he was also the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Nebraska. He truly was a man trapped in darkness.

“Larry Trapp became obsessed with driving Michael Weisser out of town. Weiser was Jewish and the cantor of the Lincoln Synagogue. Trapp barraged Weisser with hate mail, at home and on the job [Remember, this was in the days before cell phones and internet]. He made incessant threatening phone calls, he organized demonstrations; he did everything he could to make life a living hell for Michael Weisser and his family.

“Cantor Weisser was truly intimidated and scared. He had a wife and children he wanted to protect. But Michael Weisser was also a man who was unwilling to let another person’s hate prevent him from showing love. So he started calling Larry Trapp’s home, always getting the answering machine. So, he always left a message. He said, ‘This is Michael Weisser. I’d like to talk to you. I want to know why you are doing this to me.’ Finally, one day, Larry Trapp answered the phone, screaming and cursing and threatening, ‘WHAT DO YOU WANT? YOU’RE HARASSING ME!’

“And Michael Weisser said, ‘I know you have a hard time getting around and can’t drive, and I was wondering if you might need a ride to the grocery store or something?’ After a very long stunned silence, Larry Trapp quietly replied, ‘Uh, no, I’ve got that covered, but thanks for asking.’

“Larry and Michael kept talking by phone. After a while, Larry Trapp started going over to the Jewish Cantor’s house for dinner, they became friends, and when it became apparent he had nowhere else to go the Weisser family invited Larry to move in with them and he did, dying there in Michael’s arms some months later.

“Somewhere along the way, Larry Trapp left the KKK. He spent his last time on earth spreading a message of love in a world of hate; Larry Trapp became an apostle to Klansmen and other hate groups, trying to let them see the great light of love and forgiveness he has seen and experienced.”

(Originally reported in Time Magazine, February 17, 1992)

I wish I could tell you that Michael Weisser was a Christian. He was not a Christian, and yet he offered Christ-like love, compassion, and mercy to someone who had been thoroughly hateful to him. Obviously he lived by God’s admonition in Leviticus 19:18: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. What a great example for us! We overcome hate not by repaying it in kind. We overcome hate not by exacting revenge—as the culture advises us. We overcome hate with a calm manner and a loving heart.

The plain truth is that disconnectedness — isolation and alienation (way too common in our nation today) is at the root of most human problems. We are disconnected from God, from each other, and even from our true selves. Think about those who instigate mass shootings—or even those who suicide. They tend to be loners, people who feel like outsiders. They lack genuine, open, trusting, and loving relationships. They don’t feel a sense of community and envy those who do. Over time, they become angry, disappointed, without hope and, I believe, then fall prey to acting on Satan-inspired thoughts like killing or destroying.

Now think about how we are to function as a church: We are to gather together to (1) Worship God; (2) Learn more about Him so we can love Him; (3) And to form a community that demonstrates His love for us to others. The church should be the antidote to the poison of disconnectedness, isolation, and alienation.

This is the clear message of three of our passages today.

A. Our Gospel is from Matthew 4:12-23, and describes how Jesus began His public ministry: Matthew 1st tells us Jesus’ motivation for moving His base of operations from Nazareth to Capernaum. We know from the prophesies of Isaiah in 9:1-2 and 42:6-7, that Jesus was/is meant to be a light for the Gentiles (a corrective for what the Israelites had failed to do). Additionally, Luke 4:14-30 tells us that Jesus was rejected by His friends and neighbors in Nazareth when He essentially claimed He was the Messiah. So, He moved His base of operations NE to a larger town, Capernaum. It was a fishing town on the banks of Sea of Galilee. Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew all came from there. It was also a busy border town with a customs house meant to regulate trade from two major trade routes: One running East and West; a second, “The Way of the Sea,” joined Arabia and Egypt with nations north of Israel. It was a region which contained a large number of Roman citizens (there for vacations, retirement, and “peace-keeping” purposes) and other folks from all over. As a result, Jesus could teach and interact with many, but without the scrutiny He would have received in Jerusalem.

There He enlisted His first disciples…out walking on the shoreline. First, He calls brothers Andrew and Peter (Remember, Andrew had been JtB’s disciple, an probably heard John call Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Then He calls brothers James and John. All four guys fish for a living, but He promises to make them fishers of men. Apparently they drop everything and follow Him. Jesus is picking the original leaders of His as yet to be formed Church.

The Church was/is His strategy for reaching us, the Gentiles. We know He lived and traveled with these guys for 3 years. They learned from His teachings; their observations of Him; and the practice opportunities He gave them. Jesus could have established His church any number of ways, but He gathered together a small group of committed followers. He developed deep, personal relationships with them. He then sent them out to transform the world–to carry His light to Jews, and to rescue Gentiles from the darkness of paganism or unbelief.

B. St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 1:10-18) emphasizes 2 points: He wants us to be as unified as we can be…Not to argue the merits/strengths of different pastors; not to hold a special allegiance to the ones who baptized us, married us, or buried our mothers, etc.; not even to come to church to make ourselves feel better. Rather, we must remember we are in the church in order to learn to know and to love Jesus, and to offer love to those who don’t yet know Him.

Paul wants us to follow Jesus—just like James, John, Andrew, and Peter. Rather than competing with each other, we need to keep our focus on Christ. Our loyalty is not to this church building—though we may love it–or even to our denomination. Our loyalty is to Jesus.

I reviewed my old sermons and realized I preached what I am about to say three years ago. We are at a cross-road in our denomination: Those who favor ordaining active gay persons and allowing same sex marriage are once again bringing that issue up for a vote. I said then and I think it is still true: I believe the United Methodist Church as we know it, will soon split, with those who hold to Scripture separating from those who appear to be following the dictates of the culture. We will be holding a parish meeting this Wednesday, January 25th, to discuss what we feel called to do. If we want to remain true to Biblical teachings, we may opt to leave the UMC and either join another denomination or remain independent. I urge you to pray about this, and to remember that Paul is urging us to remain faithful to Christ above all things. If the denomination is bowing to pressure from the culture—and chooses to depart from the teachings of Scripture–we may want to disassociate ourselves from the denomination. I was ordained an Episcopal “priest,” and left that demonination when the same split arose in favor of the Anglican Church. Please note I don’t take such a move lightly. In fact, I find it heart-breaking.

Meanwhile, it may seem like a big disconnect to consider a denominational split while also speaking of building relationships. When we pursue the Truth, sometimes we have to walk apart from the culture, from the denomination that nurtured our faith, and even sometimes from our families, or members of our families. Nevertheless, we strive to build relationships when we focus our spiritual energies on loving God and loving our neighbors.

May God give us His wisdom in this hour. Amen!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Leading Others to Christ

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 15, 2023

Scriptures: Isa 49:1-7; Ps 40:1-11; 1 Cor 1:1-9; Jn 1:29-42

Do you remember who led you to Christ? Perhaps it was a Sunday School Teacher when you were a child? Maybe a godly parent or relative, or even a Christian neighbor, a teacher, or a coach you admired? It might have even been someone you met in the pages of a book—like the Bible or the Chronicles of Narnia? Or someone from TV? A television evangelist someone recommended you watch? Or a series, like the very popular current series, “The Chosen”? If you haven’t tuned into it on a streaming service or YouTube, I would highly recommend that you do. I have long loved Jesus, but I am finding The Chosen’s portrayal of Gospel stories has deepened my faith in Him.

I credit my grandmothers with teaching me about Jesus. They were both church-going, Bible reading women with personal relationships with Jesus. My father’s mother saw to it that I was baptized at age three. Both taught me that Jesus loved me, and saw to it that I attended Sunday School when in their care. In the days before Christian cartoons, movies and internet, I remember those old flannel-board presentations of cut outs of Noah and the animals making their way into the ark, and of David going up against Goliath. My mother’s mother cleaned her church and took me with her as a child, teaching by example the idea of serving God with our hands and our hearts.

Think back to who introduced you to Jesus and be sure to thank them in person, or thank God for them if they have already gone on to Glory.

Our Gospel lesson today (John 1:29-42) describes how John the Baptist (JtB) pointed two of his followers to Jesus. JtB sees Jesus passing by and comments to them (v.36) Look, the Lamb of God! The first is Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. We don’t know the identity of the second guy—though tradition tells us it was John, the author of this Gospel account. (He is always so modest, never naming himself in his Gospel account, but often calling himself “the disciple Jesus loved.”)

These two come alongside Jesus, Who then asks them, What do you want? He’s not being rude; He just wants to know what is motivating them to connect with Him. Perhaps they are nervous, or feel put on the spot, but they respond, (v.36) Rabbi, where are you staying? I think this is such a curious question. I would have asked about His knowledge and/or His credentials: “Are You indeed the Christ?” “May we ask You some questions?” “May we follow You to find out more?” Instead, it sounds as if they want to know about His accommodations—“Are you staying here Capernaum? “ “At the Holiday Inn or the Hilton Courtyard?” But Jesus isn’t put off and replies, (v. 39) Come and you will see an echo of Psalm 34:8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. He very simply invites them. He encourages them to Come and…see for themselves, and they do spend the rest of the day with Him.

At some point—maybe that day or the next—Andrew leads Peter to Jesus. Andrew rightly believes that he and John—thanks to JtB—have met the One believed to be Messiah. Andrew then urges his brother, Simon Peter, to come meet Jesus as well. Jesus greets Simon with “a word of knowledge.” Without having previously met Simon, Jesus says his name, and cites his lineage ”You are the son of John” [Simon bar Jonah]. Then He proceeds to change Simon’s name: Cephas is the Aramaic form of rock or stone; Peter is the Greek word for rock. Peter was at that point anything but a rock! Jesus is renaming him not to describe his current state, but to inform who he was to become.

So let’s consider this: JtB, Jesus’ cousin, identifies Christ to Andrew and John. They have JtB’s word for it that Jesus is the Lamb of the God (a title with Messianic implications). They spend time with Him and are convinced He is the Messiah. Andrew brings Peter to Christ (just as John brings his brother James, and his father, Zebedee.) We are each individually introduced to Jesus, very often one-by-one, almost like exposure to a virus (meaning no disrespect).

We can also “catch the fever” by reading Scripture. Some pretty famous Christian authors were nonbelievers prior to reading the Bible: The English professor and subsequent theologian, CS Lewis, was converted by reading Scripture, as were the journalists become Christian writers and apologists, Philip Yancey and Josh McDowell.

Our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah 49:1-7 is the 2nd (of 4) Servant Songs, all prophesies of Jesus. Last week, we read the 1st Servant Song from Isaiah 42, which talked about the character and mission of Jesus. He would be humble, gentle, and compassionate; He would be completely righteous or sinless; And he would be thoroughly dedicated to the task God placed before Him–He would redeem Israel as well as the rest of humankind.

Isaiah 49 speaks again of His task/His ministry of Salvation. God had meant the nation of Israel to be “a light to the Gentiles…,” a good example meant to attract pagan nations to God. But they had focused on themselves and had insulated themselves from other nations, thinking of them as unclean. So the Father would send Jesus Christ to take on the sinfulness of the world (i.e., clean us up). He was God’s plan from the beginning.

In verse 2, the prophet states He [God the Father] made My mouth [Jesus’] like a sharpened sword…. This means that Jesus’ teachings and pronouncements would be truthful and accurate. While His death might look to some like defeat, it would in fact fulfill God’s purposes for Him. The prophet predicts that the Father will be pleased with Jesus’ efforts–and Jesus did effect our salvation! Additionally, this Servant Song predicts, rightly, that Jesus the Messiah will be a light for the Gentiles and will save us all from the penalty for our sins.

Psalm 40:1-11 reiterates the same message. The death of Jesus might look like a catastrophic defeat, but His death and resurrection are in fact a great victory. The Psalmist, King David, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, defines Christ’s victory as a New Song, the Song of Redemption. He further asserts that (v.4) Blessed is the man [woman] who makes the Lord his [her] trust. That is what JtB, Andrew, John, and Peter each did. That’s what my grandmothers modeled for me. It’s what we all need to do…fully put our trust in Jesus.

Verse 6 is quoted in Hebrews 10:5 Sacrifice and offerings You did not desire, but a body you prepared for Me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased. In the Old Testament sacrificial system the burnt offering was an atonement for sin. A lamb, bull, goat, or pigeon was killed then burnt whole as an aroma pleasing to the LORD. It was a costly and extravagant offering. No part of it was to be eaten by any human. The life of the animal took the place of the life of the person, in order for the person to gain forgiveness for their sin.

Now, remember, JtB called Jesus the Lamb of God. Way back in Genesis 22:7-8 Abraham is obedient even to the extent of offering his long-awaited son to God, when Isaac asks, Father…the fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Later on, in Exodus 12 (think back to the 1st Passover) The Israelite slaves in Egypt were to select a 1 year old male lamb without defect. They were to kill it, then sprinkle its blood over their doorways, so when the angel of death swept through Egypt, claiming each first born son, those Israelites who had been obedient were spared. They had been saved by the blood of the lamb. Still later, in Isaiah 53:7 He [the suffering Servant, Jesus] was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth. This is part of Isaiah’s predictions of how Messiah would die (3rd Servant Song); the prophet refers to Messiah as a lamb. Jesus is the once and for all perfect sacrifice for our sins. His right standing with God is now applied to us.

Our readings today not only demonstrate how we learn about Christ—often one person teaching another—but also how precious is the gift Jesus made of Himself for us. We can and should be grateful to whoever led us to Christ. We can and should, as well, be grateful to Christ for His saving work on our behalf—how incredibly vital this is!

Furthermore, we can and should be about the business of leading others to Christ! Ask the Lord to set before you this week those He desires you to tell about Jesus. Trust in Him to prepare their hearts to hear what you have to say. Trust also in Him to give you the opportunity, the courage, and the words to say.

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Pastor Sherry Adams

Jesus is the Only One!

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 8, 2023

Scriptures: Isa 42:1-9; Ps 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matt 3:13-17

How many of you bothered to make New Year’s Resolutions this year? I made one. Normally, mine are on the order of pray more, read more Scripture, offer people more grace, and so on. But the one I made this year was to listen to Christian music—all types—more often. A clergy friend had asked me when I had felt closest to Jesus this Christmas. I told her that it was during our services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, due to Joy’s singing. You may remember she sang, “Jesu Bambino—O Holy Night” on Christmas Eve, and the soprano aria from Handel’s “Messiah” on Christmas Day, “Rejoice, O Daughters of Jerusalem.” As I sat listening, tears ran down my face. Her beautiful singing lifted my soul right into the throne room of Heaven! I felt like I was in the presence of the Lord.

So, I have resolved to make it a practice to listen to Christian music daily ever since. My new favorite CD is Casting Crown’s “Thrive” album from 2013 (Yikes, it’s 10 years old!) Nevertheless, the group consists of 7 members and their voices and harmonies are wonderful. Some of their songs have a blue-grass banjo accompaniment which I totally love.

I think their song entitled, “You are the Only One” is particularly relevant to our Scripture lessons today:

One more mother with a broken heart;

One more family is torn apart;

One more orphan out in the cold;

One more fear that takes control;

One more tangled in the same old lies;

One more shackled to the same old highs; [how’s that for a

description of addiction?]

One more scared of what tomorrow brings;

And one more chasing yesterday.

Lord, let your Kingdom come!

Who can right every wrong? You are the Only One.

Who can calm every storm? You are the Only One. You alone are Father, Savior, Spirit, Healer, Redeemer, Lord of All!

A. The prophet Isaiah (42:1-9) provides the 1st of four Servant Songs, all of which describe the coming Messiah—and all of which, as it turns out, match Jesus perfectly. In verse 1, God reveals that Messiah/Jesus is My Servant, Whom I uphold [support or back], My Chosen One in Whom I delight. Jesus had the Father’s complete confidence. He also has God’s complete approval. In our Gospel lesson today, Matthew (3:13-17) reports Jesus’ baptism. The Father speaks a blessing over Him from on high (v.17) This is My Son, Whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. The Father announces He loves Jesus and that He is proud of Him. Jesus begins His public ministry with His heavenly Father’s blessing. God further asserts in Isaiah 42:1 that He wiil empower Jesus with His Holy Spirit. Matthew shares that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at His baptism (v.16). There it is—at His baptism, Jesus is given supernatural power and authority from the Father to perform signs and wonders. There are some false gospels that claim Jesus healed wounded birds and revived crushed butterflies as a child. These lack veracity because our Lord had not yet been empowered to heal. Now, at His baptism, Jesus is granted God’s power to help and deliver, to administer God’s justice, and to speak God’s truth.

Through Isaiah, God the Father goes on to reveal Jesus’ character and ministry: He will be a different kind of King. Rather than being a military warrior, fighting to vanquish the Romans and any other Israelite foes, He will minister kindly to bruised reeds and smoldering wicks…these are poetic metaphors for people like you and me, those of us who are broken and who need a healer. He will not run roughshod over those who grieve or who are denied justice. No, He will listen gently and will respond with mercy, compassion, and love. Additionally, while He may look and act like He is meek and mild, He will actually stand strong in His God-given, God-supported, God-empowered confidence. No one will be able to make Him do what He doesn’t choose to do.

Furthermore, He will not just rescue God’s Chosen, the Jews, but He will also be (v.6) a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness (shades of Isaiah 61:1, His job description to come). This is what Peter is referring to as he witnesses to the Gentile centurion, Cornelius, in Acts 10:34-43. Though Jesus’ originally came to the House of Israel, Peter realized Jesus’ message was for anyone who would believe—regardless of nationality. He says, (v.34) I know realized how ture it is that God does not show favoritism. What a great line! Thank God—in the all too familiar rhetoric of the day—our Lord is not a racial bigot! Peter goes on the present the Gospel message—Jesus Christ lived among us, died for our sins, and rose again demonstrating His power over both death and sin. He came to save all who believe in Him. Peter affirms this as he closes his sermon with these wonderful, reassuring words (v.43) All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes [Gentile, Jew, or whoever] receives forgiveness of sins through His name.

This is a great cue for Casting Crown’s chorus:

Lord, let Your Kingdom Come!

Who can right every wrong? You are the Only One.

Who can calm every storm? You are the Only One.

You alone are Father, Savior, Spirit, Healer, Redeemer, Lord of All!

B. Our Psalm (29) reminds us, through storm metaphors, of the power of God. King David wrote it and wants us to realize that God is mightier and more powerful than the greatest storm (hurricane, tornado, blizzard, typhoon, etc.). Emphasizing God, David cites His name, the LORD, 18 times in 11 verses; and describes the [formidable] voice of the LORD, 7 times. David wants us to know that the Lord is able to see us safely through all the storms of life! Additionally, we know from experience that the storms in our lives eventually come to an end. How often during a particularly trying time in my life have I reminded myself, This too shall pass away (1 John 2:17)? This depression will lift, this physical pain will ease, this financial hardship will lessen, this strained relationship will either improve or come to an end. How do we know this? Because we remember that our God is able to rescue us from–and to be present with us during—the trials and disappointments of life. Because we have Jesus!

We worship a God Who is not only powerful enough to rescue us but also is able to redeems our pain and transform our lives. As the song, “You are the Only One” testifies, due to Jesus…

One more skeptic to believe;

One more prisoner has been set free;

One more longs to be Your hands and feet;

One more standing for the least of these;

One more praying in the morning light;

One more shining in the darkest night;

One more life worth fighting for;

No greater love worth dying for.

Lord, let Your Kingdom come! Let Your will be done!

I want to know You more;

I want to make You known;

I want this world to see that You’re alive in me.

Jesus, You’re the Only One (Father , Savior, Spirit, Healer);

You are the Only One (Redeemer, Lord of all);

You are the Only One!

Thank you, Jesus—You are the Only One! Amen!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Come, Let Us Adore Him.

Pastor Sherry’s message for New Year’s Day, 2023

Scriptures: Isa 60:1-6; Ps 72:1-14; Eph 3:1-12; Matt 2:1-12

Today is Epiphany Sunday. The word, Epiphany means manifestation (of God), and marks an encounter with God. On January 6th—or the Sunday closest to it—we celebrate the fact that God showed up to eager, Gentile Maji who had traveled hundreds of miles to see and worship Him. These were the 1st non-Jews to come adore the baby Jesus.

Their visit to Bethlehem represents the fact that the birth of Christ was of momentous significance to all people of the world.

A friend told me recently a story of a children’s Christmas Pageant: Young children portraying Joseph and Mary, and a doll for baby Jesus were seated center-stage. Some shepherds and kids dressed as sheep entered from the left and said their lines. But when the 5 year old kings arrived, they developed stage fright and froze in their tracks. Four year old Mary knew what they were supposed to do, and being a bossy little thing, yelled out, “Just come over here and bring your gifts of gold, common sense, and fur.”

Our readings today all want us to realize that God the Father always intended Jesus to show up and be worshipped by all people—not just His Chosen Ones.

Matthew–intent on proving to the Jews that Jesus is their long-awaited Messiah–is the only Gospel-writer to include the story of the visit of the Maji (Matthew 2:1-12). Matthew doesn’t really clarify who they were, or where they were from. Tradition and song refer to them as “kings,” probably based on the 10th verse we recited this morning from Psalm 72 May the kings of Tarshish [Spain] and of the isles render Him tribute; may the kings of Sheba [Yemen] and Seba [Sudan] bring gifts. But the Greek historian, Herodotus, writes that the priestly caste of the Medes [Iran] were called Magi.

We can find mentions of magi also in the Old Testament books of Esther, Jeremiah, and Daniel. Jeremiah and Daniel both describe the Magi as wise and highly educated men who served in the Babylonian [Iraqi] court. They were the doctors, scientists, mathematicians and legal experts of their day. They were also well trained in astronomy, astrology, and magic (Daniel’s specialty was interpreting dreams, a gift from the Holy Spirit).

In fact, the Magi served as advisors to the king. In Daniel 2:48, King Nebuchadnezzar makes Daniel master of all his Magi. Perhaps Daniel, and the other Jews living among them, shared their faith in Israel’s One, True God with their Magi associates. Perhaps they also shared with them prophecies regarding the Coming Messiah. We don’t know for sure, but it is quite possible that they were familiar with the predictions from Numbers 24:17 A star shall come forth from Jacob (meaning Israel), and a scepter (indicative of a king’s rule) shall rise from Israel… and from Micah 5:6 But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel. These 2 passages foretold of a special star to mark a king being born in Bethlehem of Judea.

What we do know for sure is that the Magi came a great distance from the East, bringing gifts to Jesus. They followed a star that led them westward. And then that star supernaturally stopped and remained over the house in Bethlehem to which Jesus and Mary had moved. (After the census had been taken, many returned to their homes elsewhere, so the tight housing problem in Bethlehem opened up, allowing the Holy Family to move out of the stable.) As Matthew describes it, the Magi gifted Jesus with gold, frankinsense, and myrrh.

We really don’t know how many of them there were. Tradition cites three because there were three gifts: Gold for royalty; Frankincense, a fragrant incense used by priests in worship; and myrrh, a pain-killer and a substance used for embalming a dead prophet or king. Their gifts exactly match Jesus’ 3-fold ministries of king, priest, and prophet.

But since their arrival caused a big buzz in Jerusalem and they had no trouble getting in to see King Herod, there were probably more. Paintings from the 2nd-3rd centuries depict 4. Other ancient records cite 12. And, due to the prevalence of highwaymen and robbers who often attacked travelers in those days, they would have been accompanied by armed guards for protection, as well as servants and animal handlers. So surely more than 3 important guys on camels made the trip.

Matthew cites Isaiah’s prophesy, Isaiah 60:1-2 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you! In chapter 59, Isaiah had predicted that the Redeemer would come to Zion (Jerusalem). But in chapter 60, he uses something unique to Hebrew writing called the prophetic tense. In this tense, the prophet appears to have moved ahead of his prediction, and writes looking back on it as if it has already happened. So, instead of “the Redeemer is coming,” he boldly asserts, “He has come.” Jesus is the glory of the Lord, as well as the light of the world. Even though the times are evil and dark, in His 2nd Coming, Jesus—the revealed glory of God–will also be the light source for the world. Revelation tells us that one of the final plagues God sends on a those who have not been raptured (the Church) or martryed (non-believers who come to believe during the 7 years of the Great Tribulation), in a last ditch effort to bring them to faith, the sun, moon, and stars will disappear. There will be no light at all. Jesus will overcome evil, once and for all, and will reign as the King of the Universe and Light of the World.

Remember, Malachai predicted (4:2) that The day is coming, raging like a forest fire. All the arrogant people who do evil things will be burned up like stove wood, burned to a crisp, nothing left but scorched earth and ash—a black day. But for you, sunrise! The sun of righteousness will dawn on those who honor My name, healing radiating from its wings. You will be bursting with enegy, like colts frisky and folicking (Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, p.1738). Spiritual darkness will be overcome by the Light (power and might) of Christ.

Verse 3 Nations [Gentiles] will come to Your light, and kings to the brightness of Your dawn. Gentile and Jewish believers will flock to Jerusalem to see and worship Jesus when He comes again. This will be the world’s greatest revival! Again, bear in mind that the Church will have been raptured/removed from earth into heaven. Of those who remain on earth, a large percentage of nonbelievers (60%?) will lose their lives during the plagues God will send to earth during the Great Tribulation. Those who will have come to Christ during the Great Tribulation, and who survive those dreadful times, will be the ones who flock to Jerusalem. They will come by land, sea, or air.

In what seems an exact preview of our Matthew passage, verse 6 says, And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense, and proclaiming the praise of the Lord. These God-fearing, Jesus-loving folks will descend upon Jerusalem with gifts for Christ the King. Just as will the Magi at Jesus’ 1st Coming, they will bring gold and incense (perhaps frankincense?). But since there will be no more death, there will be no need for myrrh—and myrrh is omitted.

Paul, in Ephesians 3:1-12, calls himself a prisoner of Christ and the apostle to the Gentiles. He is writing to the Ephesian church from prison in Rome, jailed for preaching the Gospel. He wants the Ephesians and us to know that the Christian Church is a divine mystery–not in the sense of a who-done-it novel–but rather as an innovation of Jesus’, unknown and therefore not mentioned previously in the Old Testament. Furthermore, he asserts that Christ intended the Church is God’s method of reaching the Gentiles, both to demonstrate the love and the wisdom of God.

We demonstrate God’s love by being loving and grace-filled toward others. We demonstrate wisdom by believing in what God has revealed in Scripture and by sharing it with others. This is how we pass on the light of Christ.

Finally our Psalm is a prayer for the new King Solomon written by his father, King David. It is thouight that it was prayed at Solomon’s coronation ceremony. David prays that his son will so love justice and righteousness, that it will be as though Solomon’s rule will reflect the rule of God Himself. Originally, Solomon asked God for the gift of wisdom and he did rule wisely and well for a time, so much so that folks came from all over to hear him dispense wisdom in judgment. However, he later allowed his many pagan wives to influence him away from the Lord. Eventually and sadly, he appears to have abandoned the One True God for idolatry.

David also prophetically expresses his faith in the goodness of the coming Messiah. It is He Who will (v.8) rule from sea to sea and from the River [the Euphrates] to the ends of the earth. Jesus will be a righteous King. All kings of the earth shall bow before Him (v.11). And, (v.14) He will also rescue the needy and the afflicted from oppression and violence.

Aren’t we grateful for Jesus? As we begin the New Year, let’s be mindful of God’s gift to us in Jesus. We may not bring Him gold, frankincense and myrrh—or even gold, common sense, and fur—but we can give Him our hearts, our faith, our obedience; and our gratitude.

Happy New Year! Come, let us adore Him!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Miracle of Christmas

Pastor Sherry’s message for December 25, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 52:7-10; Ps 98; Heb 1:1-4; Jn 1:1-14

The story is told of a man who struggled to believe God would send His Son to earth to redeem us. The man said to himself, “There is no point to a God who becomes man,” he mused. “Why would an all-powerful God want to share even one of His precious moments with the likes of man? And even if He did, why would He choose to be born in an animal stall? No way! The whole thing is absurd! I’m sure that if God really wanted to come down to earth, He would have chosen some other way.”

“Suddenly, the man was roused from his reverie by a strange sound outside. He went to the window and saw a small gaggle of blue geese frantically honking and aimlessly flopping about in the snow. They seemed dazed and confused. Apparently they had dropped out in exhaustion from the flight formations of a larger flock on its way from the Arctic Islands to the warmer climes of the Gulf of Mexico. Moved to compassion, the man tried to “shoo” the poor geese into his warm garage, but the more he “shooed” the more they panicked.

“’If they only realized I’m only trying to do what’s best for them,” he thought to himself. “How can I make them understand my concern for their well-being?” Then, this thought came to him: “If for just a minute, I could become one of them, an ordinary goose, and communicate with them in their own language, they would know what I am trying to do.” And suddenly … suddenly, he remembered Christmas and a smile came over his face. Suddenly, the Christmas story no longer seemed absurd. Suddenly, he pictured that ordinary-looking infant, lying in the manger, in that stable in Bethlehem, and he knew the answer to his Christmas problem: God had become one of us to tell us that He loves us.“ (Borrowed from the TCM website, 12/19/2022, author’s name unknown.)

This Christmas illustration is meant to remind us of the real miracle of Christmas: That Jesus Christ—the sovereign King of the Universe, seated in heaven at the right hand of God the Father, the seat of power–would take on flesh and become one of us in order to speak our language/ to get through to us and to save us from destruction.

Our scripture lessons today leave no doubt that Christmas is a miracle:

A. The writer to the Hebrews (1:1-4) wants us to know that Jesus Christ is superior in position and power to all of the prophets who have lived and to all of the angels in heaven and on earth. Previously, God had spoken to humankind through prophets He ordained to convey His thoughts to us. Less often, He communicated through angelic beings who came with specific messages to particular persons. And, then He made His thoughts known to us through the 45 Holy-Spirit-inspired authors of the Old Testament written over 1500 years. But with the birth of Jesus, the Father has spoken to us through His Son, the full revelation of God: (v.3) The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His [the Father’s] being, sustaining of all things by His powerful word. Or, as Peterson paraphrases it in his The Message, By His Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God’s nature. He holds everything together by what He says—powerful words.

B. That theme of the power of The Word/the Divine Logos is spelled out for us in John 1:1-14.

First, let’s look at where John begins. Matthew and Luke each start with Jesus’ birth, Matthew from Joseph’s perspective and Luke, from Mary’s. Mark omits the birth narratives altogether and jumps into the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. But John starts with the beginning of time and space! Verse 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Before creation took place, Jesus was present. Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, was with God, distinct from the Father; but also, Jesus, the Word, was God, part of the same deity as the Father. Like the Father, Jesus is fully divine! Verse 2 He was with God in the beginningThe Father and the Son have always co-existed. The Son did not come into being at His incarnation. He, like the Father, has existed forever.

Verse 3 Through Him all things were made and without Him, nothing was made that has been made. John sometimes repeats things to help insure that we don’t miss his point. Jesus made everything. John knows Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He just does not want us to miss the fact that Jesus was present at Creation. You see, the Father conceived the plan; and the Son, the agent of creation, spoke it into existence. Jesus brought all things to life because He is the life-force (the way, the truth and the life, John 14:6)!

Verse 4 What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. John makes a word play, in the original Greek, on life and light. Spiritually speaking, Jesus’ life brings light into ours. Later, Jesus will say, I am the light of the world (John 8:12) and I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). So, as God He is both light and life, and willingly offers both to us.

Verse 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. He came to dispel the darkness, the darkness surrounding us today: unbelief, sin, death, oppression, bondage, violence, the power of evil. But because we have free will, some of us will miss His gift. Some of us will refuse to believe in Him. Some of us will continue to live in spiritual darkness.

Verse 10 But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God. Those of us who believe in Him are not His biological heirs, or heirs through any human effort, but we are spiritual children of God, through Christ’s blood and the Father’s plan. You see, those of us who have accepted God’s perfect gift—Jesus—receive another gift: the privilege to become daughters or sons of God.

As if that weren’t enough, (v.14)🡪The Word [Jesus] became flesh and made His dwelling among us! This is a total break from all non-Christian thought–the agent of Creation becomes a Creature! Jesus encased Himself in baby flesh and comes to earth as one of us. If I were in charge, I would have had Him come as a King or as a victorious general. But God, in His wisdom, has Him arrive as a vulnerable and totally dependent, nonthreatening babe.

There has never been—nor will there ever be–a human as important as Jesus Christ! He is fully God, and He is fully human. What a miracle!

C and D.Our final two readings look forward to Christ’s millennial reign on earth, His second coming. The Isaiah passage (52:7-10) speaks to what it will be like when what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer comes to passThy kingdom come. Jesus’ rule and reign on earth will be fabulous! Peace, justice, mercy, grace and forgiveness will characterize the behavior of all people. There will be no more wars, murders, illness, death, sexual assaults, human trafficking, slavery, injustice, lying, fraud, etc. Can you even imagine such a state? How wonderful! No wonder everyone will experience great joy!

Our Psalm too (98) celebrates the righteous reign of Christ. Verse 1 Sing to the Lord a new song for He has done marvelous things! The psalmist predicts how joyous celebration will begin in the congregation (Christian Church and Synagogue of Messianic believers); then it will spread to all humans; and finally will impact all of creation. Remember, God cursed the serpent and the ground at the Fall, but not the people. Paul tells us (Romans 8:20-22) For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it [God the Father], in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God [waiting on the Second Coming of Jesus Christ].

At His 2nd Coming, the Righteous Judge will set all things right. That is a miracle for which I can hardly wait!

So we say, “Happy Birthday, Lord Jesus, on this Christmas Day, 2022!” Thank you for taking on flesh and dwelling among us! Thank you for saving us from the penalty for our sins! Today,

“May our Christmas gifts remind us of God’s greatest gift, His only Son.
May our Christmas candles remind us of Him who is the “Light of the world.”
May our Christmas trees remind us of another tree upon which He died.
May our Christmas cheer remind us of Him who said, “Be of good cheer.”
May our Christmas feast remind us of Him who is “the Bread of Life.”
May our Christmas bells remind us of the glorious proclamation of His birth.
May our Christmas carols remind us of the Son of whom the angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest!”
May our Christmas season remind us in every way of Jesus Christ our King!”

(Again, borrowed from the TCM website, 12/19/2022, author’s name unknown.)

Blessed Christmas to each one of you!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Christmas Eve 2022

Pastor Sherry’s message for December 24, 2022

Tonight you have heard read 8 passages (Gen 3:8-15; Isa 9:2-7; Isa 35:1-10; Mic 5:2-4; Lk 1:26-38; Lk 1:59-79; Tit 2:11-14; and Lk 2:1-20) all foretelling or describing Jesus as our promised Messiah. They all reference Him in some way. Most were written hundreds of years before His 1st Coming, and some even pertain to His 2nd Coming. Tonight, at this candlelight service celebrating the eve of His birth, I want to focus entirely on the Genesis passage, Genesis 3:8-15.

It might surprise you to find intimations of Jesus from the very beginning of recorded time. You see, God created humans knowing we could never be (by our own efforts) holy enough, obedient enough—this side of heaven—to dwell in His presence. Like Adam and Eve, we fall into sin too easily. We don’t know how many days or weeks Adam and Eve hung out with God in the cool of the day before they sinned. Scripture suggests that their meetings together had become a habit. However, one of my seminary professors, recognizing the seductive allure of sin and our own weaknesses, thought they probably did not last even a day before capitulating to sin (eating the fruit from the forbidden tree).

So, even as He was pronouncing their punishment, God revealed His redemptive plan for human kind. This was not a plan B, but His plan from the foundation of the earth. He loved us so much that He and Jesus agreed Jesus would come to earth and take the penalty of our sins upon Himself.

His shed blood washed away our sins, past, present, and future. In a magnificent exchange, He took our sinfulness and gifted us with His righteousness. We are cleansed from our sins by Jesus’ selfless actions.

Our Genesis passage is thus called by theologians the Proto-Evangelion —The Gospel in the Old Testament, written centuries before the New Testament Gospel accounts unfolded. Because he seduced Adam and Eve, Satan is cursed (v.14) by God. Satan is called a serpent in Genesis and we think snake. However, some biblical scholars believe Satan is a “shape-shifter” (able to take on different shapes at will) and probably originally appeared as a dragon (which is how he is characterized in the book of Revelation). The fact that God tells him he will eat dust all the days of his life means he is ultimately defeated. It also means that God effectively “clipped his wings.” God says that His followers and the serpent will be at continuous war with each other. Satan will think he has won this conflict when he wounds our Lord (at His trials and on the Cross); but, Christ’s substitutionary death on the Cross—and His subsequent resurrection–will be the means by which Jesus demonstrates His victory over death and Satan. It will appear as though the snake has bitten the Lord’s heel. However, Jesus, the seed of the woman [Mary] will crush Satan’s head. Again, until Jesus’ 2nd Coming, humans and the devil will, throughout all history, struggle against each other. There is a reason for our difficulties here on earth. We are encouraged to power through with faith. (Later, Jesus says, In this world you will have trouble, but fear not for I have overcome the world—John 16:33.)

But God the Father, in His love and compassion for us, engineered His divine rescue plan. Jesus Christ, who came to earth the first time as a helpless, vulnerable baby to save us, will come again in all His power and glory, and defeat Satan for all time.

At Christmas, and at all other times, let us express our gratitude to God…who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Alleluia, alleluia!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Trusting Jesus.

Pastor Sherry’s message for December 18, 2022,

Scriptures: Isa 7:10-16; Ps 80:1-7, 17-19; Ro 1:1-7; Matt 1:18-25

In his book, Holy Sweat, Tim Hansel shares the following biking metaphor for how he came to trust Jesus:

“At first, I saw God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was out there sort of like a president.

“But later on when I met Christ, it seemed as though life were rather like a bike ride, but it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that Christ was in the back helping me pedal.

“I don’t know just when it was that He suggested we change places, but life has not been the same since. When I had control, I knew the way. It was rather boring, but predictable…it was the shortest distance between two points.

“But when He took the lead, He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains and through rocky places at breakneck speeds. It was all I could do to hang on! Even though it looked like madness, He said, ‘Pedal!’

“I worried and was anxious and asked, ‘Where are you taking me?” He laughed and didn’t answer, and I started to learn to trust.

“I forgot my boring life and entered into the adventure. And when I’d say, ‘I’m scared,’ He ‘d lean back and touch my hand….

”I did not trust Him , at first, in control of my life. I thought He’d wreck it; but He knows bike secrets, knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners, knows how to jump to clear high rocks, knows how to fly to shorten scary passages.

“And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places, and I’m beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful constant companion, Jesus Christ.“

(Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.586-587)

I think Tim Hansel captures the experience many of us have as we learn to surrender control over our lives to Jesus. It can be and often is a very difficult lesson to learn—to trust Jesus–but as Hansel says, it is well worth taking the risk.

Two of our lessons today relate to this issue of putting our faith and trust in the Lord:

A. In our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah 7:10-16, the prophet Isaiah relates for us the example of King Ahaz of Judah. He was a faithless idolater who is reported to have sacrificed his first born son to the fires of the pagan god Molech. He was 20 years old when he ascended the throne and ruled Judah for 16 years. A descendant of King David, he was a grandson of the good king, Uzziah, and a son of Jothem, another good king. But unlike his father and grandfather, he did not believe in the Lord, the one, true God. We are told in 2 Kings 16:3-4 that… he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God.

The context of today’s lesson finds him, in 734 BC, surrounded by enemies who threaten to invade his kingdom: Rezer, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel, have formed a coalition against him and are marching on Jerusalem. So a terrified Ahaz is thinking of aligning himself with either Egypt or with Assyria—both traditional enemies of the Jews–for safety. Since Ahaz is a godless king, we would expect the Lord to abandon him to his own devices. However, our God is not like that. Seeing an opportunity to gather Ahaz to Himself, God sends the prophet Isaiah to offer the king comfort. Because he is a nonbeliever—pedaling his bike on his own—it has never even occurred to him to ask God for help! (Some years back, I saw the film “Perfect Storm” with George Clooney. Clooney played a fisherman who is down on his luck and who needed a great catch to save his both boat and his livelihood. He succeeds in loading up his boat with fish, only to find himself in a dangerous storm at sea. His boat is swamped and he and his men know they are about to drown, and not one of them cries out to the Lord. I was truly dismayed, wondering if we as a nation have wandered so far from God that even when in danger of dying, we fail to ask for His help.)

Probably Ahaz similarly assumed that because he does not worship God, he cannot expect the Lord to help him overcome his enemies. Isaiah meets him at the source of Jerusalem’s water supply, in the place where the citizens of the city did their laundry, and informs him that God will not abandon him or Judah. Notice the rich symbolism God has set up: “Ahaz, despite your unbelief, and your heinous sins, I can wash you clean; I can sustain your life with living (flowing) water” (an image of Christ Who later will refer to Himself as “Living Water” in John 4). God has also told the prophet to take his son to this meeting, Shear-Jashub, whose name meant a remnant will return.

We lit the candle for love today. Do you see how loving and generous the Lord is toward this sinful reprobate, Ahaz? God tells him, through Isaiah, that He will protect him and he can even ask for a sign that this will be so. Ahaz acts pious Far be it from me to ask God for a sign…I would never test God like that! Somewhere along the way, he had learned not to test the Lord. However, he is in a national emergency and God has offered. Nevertheless, he doesn’t trust God enough, even given the encouragement of this very trustworthy, accurate prophet.

Ahaz is looking to the current crisis, but the prophet predicts a long-term solution, Jesus: A son—Jesus–will be born to a virgin. He will be Immanuel, God with us. He will eat yogurt (curds) and honey, the food of poor people in that day (available during drought or poor agricultural years). By the time He is 11 or 12 years old, the kings you fear will have long been taken over and deported by the Assyrians. Scholars believe there might have been an Israelite princess then (perhaps Isaiah’s 2nd wife?) who would give birth to a son in Ahaz’ time. There is, however, no record of a child born to Isaiah named Immanuel. However, this side of the Incarnation, we know this is a prediction of Jesus. Ahaz is graciously given a sign, but he still refuses to believe. He is entirely faithless!

B. Now contrast Ahaz’ response to that of Joseph in our Gospel, Matthew 1:18-25. Luke describes the circumstances of Jesus’ birth from the perspective of Mary, while Matthew emphasizes Joseph’s response. Notice Joseph’s trust in God. He has learned that Mary is pregnant and knows he has never slept with her. Instead of demanding that she be stoned, as he could have done by law, Joseph [v.19]…was a Righteous man [who] did not want to expose her to public disgrace, so he decides to quietly divorce her. God, however, intervenes by sending him a dream. In the dream an angel tells him [v.20] Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Unlike King Ahaz, Joseph is a man of God and so he believes the angel’s message and is obedient. He marries Mary and cares for her. He does not consummate their marriage until after Jesus’ birth, so there is no question of Jesus’ divine paternity. And Joseph does name the baby Jesus, which means God saves.

What a great opening for Matthew! Remember, Matthew wrote his Gospel for the Jews, writing to demonstrate to them how Jesus fulfills the Messianic prophesies from the Old Testament. He immediately references our Isaiah 7 lesson [vv.22-23] all this took place to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to son and they will call him Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” The current day New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop, N.T. Wright, claims that until Matthew wrote his Gospel, no one had ever thought of this Isaiah passage as referring to the promised Messiah. But under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Matthew asserts it, attesting to the supernatural origin of Jesus. Jesus is both human (born of Mary), and divine (born of the Holy Spirit). Furthermore, in Jesus, God Himself is here, God Himself is with us, as the fullness of God is present in Christ.

John Ortberg, a Presbyterian pastor and author, writes in his book, God is Closer Than You Think, The central promise in the Bible is not, “I will forgive you,” though of course that promise is there. It is not the promise of life after death, although we are offered that as well. The most frequent promise in the Bible is “I will be with you.” This promise is spoken in Scripture over and over again: to Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, King David, the prophets, the Virgin Mary, and the Righteous Joseph. They all heard the comfort, the love, and the promise: Don’t be afraid, I am with you.

Ahaz was afraid and mistrusted God. He did not accept God’s sign to him. Instead, he aligned himself with an untrustworthy human ally—Assyria—against his northern enemies. And in 722 BC, (12 years later) the Assyrians overran Syria and Israel, and made Judah a vassal state. Joseph was also afraid, but God told him not to be. In fact, God made him the same promise he had made to the old, idolatrous king: “The Child will be a sign, Immanuel, God with us.” Joseph believed and was comforted, protected, and blessed.

So, our Scriptures today poses the question: How are you doing with regard to trusting Jesus? Is your faith going to look like that of Ahaz or like that of Joseph? Are we going to trust in our own plans and schemes to save us? Or, are we going to trust–like Joseph did and despite our fears– in the God of love? In Immanuel, the One who promises to be with us, no matter our fears, our trials, or our difficulties. As Christmas Day draws near, let us put our faith and trust firmly in the hands of our loving Savior…come, let us trust Him and adore Him. Let’s let Jesus drive our tandem bike.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Advent Expections

Pastor Sherry’s message for December 11, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 35:1-10; Lk 1:47-55; Ja 5: 7-10; Matt 11:2-11

The story is told of a baby boy born into the Lane family in 1958. The father, a man named Robert, chose to name his boy Winner. How could the young man fail to succeed with a name like “Winner Lane”?

Several years passed and the Lanes had another son. For unknown reasons (this is a true story), Robert named this boy “Loser.” What a terrible thing to do to the baby—(like Johnny Cash’s “A Boy named Sue”)—Robert and his silent wife seemed to have doomed their 2nd son’s prospects. I wonder how many years he spent in counseling trying to overcome that moniker.

Of course, everyone who knew the boys probably thought they could figure out how they would turn out. After all, the psychological concept of the “Self-fulfilling Prophecy”–or you get what you expect from a child–is well known (Consider the “Pygmalion in the Classroom” research in which 4th grade teachers were told their students were brilliant—when they were actually ordinary—and watched how they treated these kids. By year’s end, those kids had performed excellently and had even raised their IQ points, demonstrating that teachers’ expectations had an important effect on kids’ performance.)

But contrary to everyone’s prophecies, Loser Lane succeeded. He graduated from college and later became a sergeant with the NYPD, shield # 2762. Nowadays, no one feels comfortable calling him “Loser.” His colleagues simply refer to him as “Lou.”

And what about the other brother? The one everyone expected to be a great success? The most noteworthy achievement of Winner Lane is the sheer length of his criminal record. Inmate #OOR28Q7 has nearly three dozen arrests for burglary, domestic violence, trespassing, resisting arrest, and other assorted acts of mayhem. Sometimes things don’t quite turn out as we might expect.

(Borrowed from Tom Hughes, Down to Earth: How Jesus’ Stories Can Change Your Everyday Life, NavPress, 2019, p.13).

These examples demonstrate that we need to be careful about what we expect of our children and of others. Often our expectations may be too high or too low. They can put emotional pressure on those we love and thus limit or frustrate them, disappointing them and us. This time of year, we also tend to have expectations of Christmas which may or may not be appropriate.

The best way to keep our Advent expectations realistic is to check them against what Scripture records and predicts:

A. Our psalm this morning is the Song of Mary, also known as “The Magnificat” (Luke 1:47-55). (The custom in the early church was to name psalms after the Latin rendering of the 1st word or two; so, Magnificat for “My soul magnifies….” Notice: We would expect the whole psalm to say, “YIPPEE, God picked ME!” Young women from the tribe of Judah grew up wishing and believing they might be the one to bear the Messiah. And despite her challenges of being unmarried and poor, Mary does rejoice in God’s choice of her.

But the majority of her focus is on glorifying/praising God for what He is doing (through her) for His people! How mature! She wisely takes the focus off herself, and sets it upon God’s activity. She praises Him for His mercy to those who respect and revere Him; His past works of power; His surprising, unexpected propensity to reverse worldly fortunes (the low are raised up and the lofty are brought low); and for His fulfillment of His promises (Genesis 12, 17, and 22) to Israel: a king from the lineage of David; and a messiah who will bless all nations on earth.

What does Mary have to teach us about expectations? She had been raised to expect the Messiah to come. She knew from Scripture that He would redeem His people.

What does Mary have to teach us about love and joy (We lit the candle for joy today)? Because she loved God, she was willing to bear up under public criticism and condemnation. Because she loved God, she surrendered to His will. Because she loved God, she praised Him, with great joy, for keeping His promises to His people.

B. In our Gospel lesson today, Matthew 11:2-11, Jesus has sent the 12 out to put into practice all He has taught them. He, Himself, continues to preach and teach. JtB (John the Baptist) has been imprisoned for some time now, and—as often happens—he begins to doubt his earlier faith that his cousin Jesus is the Messiah. He deploys 2 disciples to ask Jesus (v.3) Are You the One who was to come, or should we expect someone else?

No doubt JtB expected Jesus to set him free. Jesus does not do so. Instead He reiterates His job description from Isaiah 61:1: the blind see; the lame walk; lepers are healed; the deaf hear; the dead are raised to life; and the Good News is preached to the poor. Because He avoids saying He will…proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, JtB learns Jesus will not be leading his jail break. The response comes back to him, “Yes, your cousin is the Messiah you proclaimed at the beginning of His earthly ministry. But no, He will not be supervising your prison release.”

Jesus does not meet JtB’s personal expectations. Apparently, it suited God’s purposes for JtB to leave the scene (decrease) so Jesus’ ministry could increase. But He does proclaim him the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Hopefully, JtB understood this need to exit the world stage and began to prepare himself to meet his Maker.

C. In fact, JtB probably knew Isaiah 35:1-10, a Messianic prophecy from 700 years before Jesus’ birth. He would have remembered that in the predicted Messianic Age (the 1000 year reign of Christ). The material earth will be restored to the time before the Fall. Scholars believe it will be returned to what the Garden of Eden was like. When Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed the ground and the serpent, but not the people. Paul will later assert (Romans 8:22) We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Paul had learned from Jesus that creation, too, would be redeemed at Jesus’ 2nd Coming.

Additionally, JtB would recall that the bodies of human beings will be renewed. Verses 5-6 state …the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. Jesus accomplished the healing of many individuals during His 1st Advent. But when He comes again, all of humankind will be spiritually, physically, and emotionally healed. How’s that for a truly wonderful Advent expectation (and promise)!

D. No wonder we have the James 5:7-10 passage assigned for today as well. The 2nd coming of Jesus Christ will right all that is now wrong with our world. However, as James counsels us, we need to (v.7) Be patient, then, brothers [and sisters] until the Lord’s coming. Scripture has told us what to expect. We just need to wait with faith, as a farmer waits for his/her crops to grow. When I was in seminary in Pittsburgh, I planted crocuses around my house. Even if there was still snow on the ground, these were the first blooms of Spring to manifest. They made such a beautiful display against a white or dirt background. Unfortunately, there were also many deer around my place, and they dined on those flowers about as fast as they came up. James also recommends we meditate on the lives of the prophets—including JtB—who prophesied the wonders to come, but did not get to experience them during their lifetime on earth.

Remember how, as a child, it was so difficult to wait until Christmas morning to see what Santa left under the tree or to unwrap our gifts? We would be so anxious and excited we could hardly sit still. As grown-up believers in Jesus, we can have this same excitement over Jesus’ appearing, while we patiently wait, in faith, for that great day. We just want our Advent Expectations of Jesus to line up with what Scripture promises and describes.

Thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia, Alleluia!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Turn Around!

Pastor Sherry’s message for December 4, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 11:1-10; Ps 72:1-7,18-19; Ro15:4-13; Matt 3:1-12

Someone asked me recently if I preached sermons I find online. I told the person that I do not. I write my own—hopefully with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit–but do locate online illustrations that are relevant to what I hope to convey. In that light, I have borrowed the following story from a Pastor online named Chuck Lawless (Jan 29, 2019):

He recalled that some years back he and his wife lived next door to a little boy named Charlie. One day there was a knock at their door, and Charlie stood there asking if the Pastor could please come out and play. Pastor Chuck figured “Sure, why not? The kid was a nice little guy.”

He discovered that Charlie had just received a new whiffle ball and bat. The child proceeded to tell the pastor, “Here’s what we do, Mr. Chuck. I’ll stand back here,” he said, “you throw the ball, and I’ll hit it.” Chuck threw his first pitch, only to see Charlie swing and miss the ball by several feet. He encouraged the little guy, adjusted his hands on the bat, then threw a 2nd time, only to have the kid miss again. The next pitch was no better – Charlie missed it again.

By now the child was exasperated – at the Pastor! He hefted the ball back to Chuck and yelled out to him, “Mr. Chuck, you’re doin’ it wrong!”

“What do you mean that I’m doing it wrong, Charlie?”

The boy answered: “Mr. Chuck, you’re supposed to be throwing the ball where I’m swinging the bat!”

At the time, he laughed over the boy’s logic…until it occurred to him later that we often treat God the same way. He says, “We’re willing to follow God as long as His plans meet ours, as long as what He demands fits inside our own box – as long as He’s pitching the ball where we’re swinging the bat. That’s not the way it works, however. The Almighty God, the Creator of the world, the Ruler of the universe does not adjust His pitching to where we’re swinging the bat. We’re the ones who must make the adjustments; we follow God and do whatever He demands, even if His plans stretch us.”

Our Advent preparation focus today is on peace; we lit the second or peace candle. Our Gospel lesson describes the work of John the Baptist. So, you might be wondering what does doing things God’s way, or even John the Baptist (JtB), have to do with peace? John, for instance, seems bent on shaking up, maybe even destroying folks’ peace. His message was essentially, Repent! In the original Greek, the word is metanoia. It means to turn, to change, to reverse oneself. It was not a particularly religious word back then. Instead, it was an ordinary, everyday word for turning around (execute a u-turn) and commence immediately to go the other way. But the sense of the word as JtB uses it is not just changing your mind, but totally re-orienting your will. He is saying, If you want true peace, you need to go the direction God is going; If you want true peace, you need to do things the way God wants them.

So, if God’s way is not the way we have been doing things, what are we to do? Here are some possibilities:

1. Consider Giving God a blank check. Don’t put any restrictions or limitations on what you want Him to do. I once counseled a guy who was frustrated about finding a wife. As we processed his dilemma, I discovered he had a whole check list of qualities and characteristics he wanted God to match: pretty, good figure, brunette, green eyes, etc. His list contained all physical attributes—nothing about her character or her personality. Now could God have located a woman who matched his list? Of course. But the Lord had not. Like Charlie, the fellow wanted God to throw the ball where his bat was.

Certainly we can make suggestions to the Lord, but we also need to let God be God. We need to swing our bat where He is pitching the ball.

2. Ask God to show you if there are areas of your life where you are waiting for God to adjust, rather than the other way around. Let’s say God tells you you are too stubborn, too proud, or too rigid? Are you willing to accept His assessment and turn around or turn away from that behavior? Recently a friend told me God had used a pastor to tell him he lacked a heart-to-heart relationship with Jesus. At first this fellow was insulted; but as he thought and prayed about it, he realized the man had been right. He had a head-knowledge of our Lord, but no true relationship with Him. Thankfully, he agreed to change this.

3. Finally—and this is a big one–try hard not to get frustrated with God’s plans for you. I thought God had called me into ordained ministry, after getting my doctorate in Psychology, so that I could do therapy with the clergy. That really never worked out! Instead, here I serving Him and you as a pastor in this church, and happy to do so. I have learned from this that the path to peace is following God’s will. Also, God’s path to peace often involves waiting. Have you ever noticed that many of the Old Testament saints had to wait for years to obtain their promised rewards? I think of waiting as the crucible of the saints. God uses the time to wear off our rough and sharp edges, to mold and shaped our character.

But, to get back to Chuck Lawless’ story, I have had to make adjustments to my swing, instead of expecting God to fulfill my plans—and perhaps you have too.

Let’s turn to our Gospel lesson again–John the Baptist’s words to the Pharisees and Sadducees were straight and true! They had joined the crowds that were coming to JtB, ostensibly to ask to receive the baptism of repentance. So why did John blast them, calling them “you brood of vipers”? He called them out because, as a prophet, he knew they had joined the crowd only out of curiosity. They were not there to humbly ask God’s forgiveness because they realized they needed to change. They did, in fact, need to change their hearts toward God and toward God’s people, but they were clearly unwilling to change.

So he thundered at them, Bear fruit worthy of repentance! What he meant was “Let me see some evidence of a changed direction in your life. You guys seem to believe because you are leaders of God’s Chosen People, you don’t have to examine your consciences, or to consider whether following the rules often means you are missing out on understanding the heart of God. You seem to have overlooked the truth that God is heading in one direction, and you insist you are following Him, even though you are wrong-headedly going the other way.”

If the Kingdom of God is at hand—and if we want the Advent peace God promises–what must we do to get ready? We want to look at the direction God is going, get ourselves turned around, and follow Him. It’s not up to us to debate the quality or direction of God’s pitches. We can insist on our own way and lose out. Or we can surrender our wills to His and join Him.

That’s where we will ultimately find the peace that Isaiah describes in his Chapter 11:6-9 passage this morning:

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the kid [young goat], the calf and lion and the yearling [young deer] will eat from the same trough, and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent. Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on My holy mountain, for the whole earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Oh Lord, may it be so and soon! Amen and Amen!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams