Pastor Sherry’s Message for May 10, 2020

Scriptures: Acts 7:51-60; Ps 31:1-5, 14-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

         I understand that some current historians argue against the authenticity of this, but apparently maps dating from the middle ages would often include the inscription, “That way there be dragons.”   Often accompanied with colorful illustrations of these fearsome creatures, this warning was meant to alert folks of uncharted territories, especially oceans, which might contain terrifying dangers.  The phrase indicates peril.  It is intended to caution people to either avoid an area entirely, or to proceed with great care.  It arises from fear, not faith.  Fear is a kind of faith, but it is a faith in a negative outcome.  As Jesus tells us in our Gospel lesson today, John 14:1 Do not let your hearts be troubled [fearful, anxious]Trust in God; trust also in Me. The antidote to fear is faith or trust in God. 

         The context of our Gospel passage is Jesus’ desire to comfort His disciples prior to His crucifixion.  He wants them to understand several important points prior to His death and resurrection:

(1) What is to come will be of no surprise to Him: (v.2) In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not true, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  Eugene Peterson, in his modern paraphrase of scripture, The Message, puts it this way: (vv.1-3) Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you?  Trust Me.  There is plenty of room for you in My Father’s home.  If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you?  And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live.  He wanted them not to fear his death sentence and execution.  He knew that when the crisis arrived, they would cut and run.  He also knew that death would not hold Him.  He had other things to accomplish for their sakes, and for ours, and He would rise up to complete them.  He wanted them to be encouraged, to believe in what He had taught them and had demonstrated for them for 3+ years.  He wanted us to believe in what we’ve learned about Him in Bible readings and studies, and from sermons we had heard or read in our Christian journey.

(2) Jesus is trustworthy because He is God.  Technically, He is God’s Son, but fully God (as well as fully man).  Jesus states this very clearly (vv.9-10), Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father….Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me?   We could say He is the face of God the Father (who exists in spirit-form).  Jesus and His Father were in constant communication as He traveled, preached, and healed in the cities and towns of 1st century Palestine.  He took His “marching orders” directly from His Father.  As Jesus says in John 5:19-20, I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does, the Son also does.  For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all He does.  So, if God the Father is trustworthy—He says what He means and means what He says—then so too is Jesus, His Son. 

(3) We access God the Father solely through Jesus.  Jesus tells us (v.6), I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.  He is our intercessor; He is the Way, our gate, our entrée, the only way for us to gain admission to Heaven or to a relationship with the Father.  Years ago, I heard a story (that has since been memorialized by Nicholas Sparks in one of his novels):

 A wealthy man and his son collected rare works of art together.  Over the years, they had developed a large collection, including priceless paintings by Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Monet.  Father and son enjoyed finding and purchasing them; they delighted in looking at them and discussing them.  When the Vietnam War broke out, the son volunteered for service.  Sadly, this courageous soldier died saving another.  His father grieved deeply as this young man had been his only child.

Just before Christmas that year, the fellow his son had saved knocked at the father’s door.  He shared with the grieving man how his son had saved his life and then presented him with a portrait he had painted of the young soldier.  The portrait was not excellent, but it did capture his son’s personality, and especially his eyes.  With great love and gratitude, the father hung it over his mantle, and came to value it more than all his other, finer paintings.

The wealthy man died months later and his will provided that his extensive collection of paintings would be sold at auction.  Art collectors from all over the world gathered to bid.  The first work offered was the favored painting of the son.  “Who will bid for this picture?” the auctioneer invited.  But the art connoisseurs only moaned; they considered this work substandard and were anxious to get to the masterpieces.  The auctioneer again asked, “Who will take the son?”  Again, no one responded as the collectors grew more and more agitated.  Someone in the crowd called out, “We’re not interested in this amateur painting.  Bring out the master works!”  But the auctioneer insisted that someone must bid on the initial painting before the others could be offered. 

Finally, a former servant who had also loved the son, bid $10, all he had on him.  The auctioneer tried for more, but the crowd was becoming impatient and angry.  So the auctioneer slammed down his gavel and announced, “Sold for $10.00…That concludes this auction!”  This declaration was met with a stunned silence which then exploded into general outrage:  “But what about the great works of art?”  The auctioneer then explained that such was the stipulation of the will:  Those seeking only the fine art work lost out; whereas the one who valued the portrait of the son got it all!

           We cannot come to the Father without loving and accepting His Son.   The only way to the Father is through His Son. 

          (4) Finally, Jesus assures them that whatever they ask, in prayer, of the Father—consistent with Jesus’ name and character—God will grant to them.  Now this does not constitute “carte blanche.”  Verse 15 (just beyond today’s reading) gives us an additional condition:  If you love Me, you will obey what I command.  Jesus is telling us that the Father will answer our prayers provided (a) they are requests for what Jesus would approve (not for revenge or for selfish motives like winning the lottery), and that (b) the petitioner—the one praying–lives a life submitted to Christ.  If we have wondered why God hasn’t answered our prayers at times, we might want to consider how (dis)obedient we have been as we have done the asking.  Sometimes our lack of submission to Christ serves as an impediment, a roadblock, to receiving from God what we have asked of Him.

          In sum, we do not need to fear dragons—or anything else, including the Wuhan Coronavirus!—if we trust in Jesus.  He is trustworthy and true.  Faith in Christ is our antidote to fear. 

         The psalmist, King David, stresses the same theme:  trust in God.  Given that King Saul chased David about the wilderness trying to kill him, for roughly 15 years, he clearly knew that godly believers can and do experience troubles.  It’s true, isn’t it, that our faith in Christ does not exclude us from experiencing tough times.  But David exclaims (vv.1-2)àIn You, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.  Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.  David knew and trusted that the God who anointed him King would protect him.  Even still, our God does protect us and is with us during our darkest moments.  You probably recognize verse 5 as one of the statements Jesus made from the Cross:  Into Your hands I commit [some translations say commend] My spirit….  He was trusting that He would be with the Father in His death.  So too have many Christian martyrs quoted this very passage at the instant of their deaths. John Huss, one of several Protestant Reformers burned at the stake in 1415 for “heresy”–against what he considered the erroneous teachings of the Catholic Church of the time–is reported to have forgiven his enemies as they lit the fire, to have sung the Psalms as the flames engulfed him, and to have given his spirit to the Lord, quoting this verse, as he died.  I believe that just as the pre-incarnate Christ walked in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3:19-27), so too will our Lord be with us believers as we face death.  This kind of trust is the way of safety and eternal security.

         This was certainly true for Stephen (Acts 7:51-60), the first Christian martyr.  Arrested by the Sanhedrin for teaching and preaching Christ and His resurrection, Stephen, a deacon in the infant Church, confronted his accusers with their unbelief in a masterful sermon.  Just as they began to stone him, he attested to seeing heaven open and Jesus standing to the right of God the Father (considered the position of power).  The Sanhedrin was bound up by belief in their religious traditions and on their lust for power and influence.  They had followed Jesus about and had witnessed His miracles and heard His authoritative teachings.  Nevertheless, they failed to believe He was/is God.  That way—their way—there be dragons.

         As Peter makes clear (1 Peter 2:2-10), the safe way is obedience to Christ, the foundation stone of our faith.  Our faith in Jesus builds us into (v.9)àa chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.  Lack of faith in Jesus is ultimately fatal.  That way there be dragons.  But faith in Him is actually the safe route and the only highway to God’s mercy and His eternal blessings. 

         As Easter people, we embrace the Risen Christ!  We put our trust in Him.  Our hearts swell with love for Him.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for saving us!  Thank you for being the Way, the Truth, and the Life!  We appreciate You.  We are grateful to You.  We bless Your holy name!  Alleluia!  Amen!

 ©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams


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