Pastor Sherry’s Message
Scripture Readings: Sam.16:1-13; Ps 23; John 9:1-41
One of my heroes of the faith is a man named Charles Simeon (1758-1836). He was an Englishman who was about 18 at the time of our Revolutionary War. An Evangelical, Bible-believing, Anglican pastor and college professor, he had graduated from Eton & from Cambridge University. Having had an encounter with Christ through his own Scripture readings on Easter Sunday, Charles had converted to Christianity at age 19. He was definitely a unique person as there were apparently no other Christians at the University for the next 3 years.
Two years after graduating from Cambridge, in 1782, he was appointed by his Bishop to be the lead pastor at Holy Trinity Church–the most prominent church in Cambridge at the time. Though typically Bishops then appointed clergy rather than their being “called” by individual congregations, Charles was a young man (24) for such an important position. As it turned out, many parishioners there didn’t want him because he believed in Jesus and he preached the Scriptures. It was the era of the Enlightenment, when many intellectuals in England—and in this university city–had abandoned their faith in God in favor of trusting only in science. They preferred an associate pastor, a Mr. Hammond, a guy who preached more to their liking. So unable to get the Bishop to agree with their choice, they began a campaign to run Simeon off. For 12 years,
- They locked their pew doors so that anyone who came to services had to
stand in the aisles.
- They refused to let Simeon preach the Sunday afternoon service for 10
- They slandered
- In addition, Cambridge students
- Derided his belief in the truth claims of the Bible;
- Ostracized the students he did convert;
- Disrupted services inside & created noisy demonstrations in thestreets to keep worshippers away;
- And threw tomatoes at Simeon as he entered the church yard.
- Cambridge University named him Dean for 9 years, even though his peers snubbed/avoided him because he was a follower of Jesus Christ.
What is truly astonishing to me about him is that he remained in that parish for 54 years (ages 24-77)! He did not appear to be afraid of what they might do to him to drive him off; instead he simply out-persisted his antagonists! Over the years he was there, he turned many hearts to Jesus through his patient endurance & faithful Gospel preaching (his sermons have been preserved in 21 volumes). Though they had begun his tenure by hating and reviling him, by the time he died, the entire parish & University turned out for his funeral. He had become beloved by town, gown, and parish. He had served as a model of humility and perseverance. What sustained him through the first 12 years of energetic resistance? He never married, so it wasn’t a reassuring, supportive spouse. So Who or What helped him to patiently persist all those lonely years? The same Jesus, and the same Holy Spirit, who sustain, protect, and encourage each of us.
Right now, we are in voluntary quarantine due to the Chinese Corona Virus. Let’s examine what the Scripture lessons appointed for today have to tell us about facing such threats without fear.
- In our Old Testament lesson, Samuel anoints David King of Israel in about 1025BC. Now Israel had a king already, King Saul; but because he did not have a healthy respect for or a reverence for God, God had rejected him as the leader of His people. So God sends the prophet Samuel to anoint someone else to take Saul’s place. Afraid of Saul’s anger and vengeance, Samuel journeys to Bethlehem under a religious pretext. Notice, the prophet doesn’t know God’s choice; he has to have Jesse parade 7 of his eight handsome sons before him (David was the baby of 10 kids, including 2 daughters). The 7 older sons are tall and handsome, but God rejects them all. The Lord tells His prophet, Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. It’s only when David is sent for, that God says, “Yes, this is my choice.”
Why is David God’s choice as King? We tend to judge people by their looks, how much money they have, and/or their influence or status. But God is mainly concerned with heart attitudes. It’s due to David’s heart (his character) that God chooses him. Later, he proves he is…
a.) courageous by killing Goliath, the giant, with just a slingshot;
b.) humble by assisting/serving the very man he is to replace;
c.) not vengeful because he refrains from killing Saul, even when Saul is
determined to kill him;
- and commited to God, even though it takes another 15 years before
he actually begins his reign as king.
Please be aware that the prophet Samuel was very worried about going to Bethlehem. Like us, facing this Chinese Coronavirus pandemic, he had the backing, the fortification, the defense of God’s presence with him. We do not need to be afraid! We do not need to panic, even if the culture around us seems to be freaking out. We know Jesus, so we can know (and feel) peace.
- In the 23rd Psalm, we learn that King David trusted God to lead, guide, & provide for him. Verse 4 relates to the issue of fear: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You [God] are with me. David had experienced God’s protection over and over again, and so have we. I wonder if, when we get to heaven, we will learn of the many threats against us–brought about by the Evil One–from which God will have rescued us? To God be the glory, great things He has done!
Additionally, like Charles Simeon 2800 years later, King David spent 15 years in the school of hard knocks. If you look at the lives of many Biblical Greats, we see the same pattern:
- Abraham & Sarah anxiously wait 25 yrs. for the birth of Isaac;
- Moses shepherds 40 yrs. before leading God’s people out of Egypt, then wanders about with them for another 40;
- Joseph endures 7 yrs. as a slave & another 7 in prison before God raises him to second in command after Pharaoh.
The question is: Why does God allow this sort of thing to happen to those who put their trust in Him? We were given the answer in last week’s Epistle reading from Peterson’s The Message: (Ro 5:3-5): We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles [suffering], because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us [patient endurance], & how patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue [character], keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy [hope] such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives thru the Holy Spirit! In other words, God allows us to undergo suffering [like the Chinese CoronaVirus and its attendant quarantine] because our patient endurance of it molds and shapes our character. Unless we get really angry with God, it makes us more dependent on Him. We become acquainted with the Holy Spirit and we learn to listen to His voice for guidance. As a result, our faith deepens. Charles Simeon admitted he had a terrible temper and a sharp tongue prior to his 12 year struggle with the resistance at Holy Trinity Church.
3.)Our Gospel lesson relates the story of the man born blind. What might his testimony have to tell us about facing fear? For one thing, he’s cheeky, gutsy, and grateful. Prior to meeting Jesus, he is an adult who has had to beg for his living. Imagine never, ever having seen colors or dimensions; or not being able to observe the behavior of people or their facial expressions. What about missing out on perceiving your mother or your father’s faces? He encounters Christ and receives sight, for the first time ever. Wow! What joy! Though he might now have some concerns about how to make a living, on the whole, this is something to be thrilled about!
However, look at the response of the others around him: Some of his neighbors doubt his identity and his healing. The Pharisees grill him. Like police with a suspect under a naked light bulb, they demand to know, “Who healed you?” “Why was the One who healed you working on the Sabbath?” In other words, they are trying to discern, “Is Jesus a good guy or a sinner?” They don’t believe the man’s own account, so they call his parents. Now, these parents are shrewd. They know the attitude of Pharisees toward Jesus, and they’ve heard that the Pharisees are throwing Christ-followers out of the synagogue,. So they refuse to commit themselves and send the issue back to their son: “Hey, don’t ask us! He’s a grown up! Ask him!” The Pharisees call the man back again, and want him to renounce Christ. He won’t do it! [Good for him!] Essentially he says, “This is my story and I’m sticking to it…I’m sticking with Him too! And then they do excommunicate him.
This man is very brave in the face of economic and social ruin. Excommunication from the synagogue in those days meant you were a pariah. You could not talk with practicing Jews; you would not be invited to their homes; you had no way to make a living nor to worship God. Yet this guy braves it all. His reward? He gets to see and he gets to see Jesus!
Truthfully, how much do we have to fear from the Virus? In Whom do we trust?
When we consider the examples of Charles Simeon, from history, & of King David and the man born blind from our Scriptures, we are encouraged to Take heart! The spiritual temptation, when we go through hard times, is to cringe, to withdraw, and to lose faith in God’s power or desire to act on our behalf. These individuals each urge us to keep our faith and keep our heads! We want to trust in our God and in His loving protection of us. We want to remember that our God uses hard times—like what we are going through now–to improve & refine us:
- He knocks off our prickly edges, and hammers out our imperfections;
- He molds and shapes us into the image of Jesus;
- He softens our hearts and helps us to love as He does.
So, as Moses writes (Deuteronlmy 1:29), let us remember, Do not be terrified, do not be afraid [of the virus]. The Lord will fight for you! Let’s remember to keep the faith and not surrender to fear. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Copyright 3/22/20201 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams