Pastor Sherry’s Message for February 21, 2021

Scriptures: Gen 9:8-17; Ps 25:1-10; 1 Pet 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

         Back in ancient times, when a person could no longer repay their debts (they were forced into bankruptcy), a list was made of how much they owed to whomever, and this list was posted in a public place.  The idea was to punish them by humiliation.  The list was posted with a nail at the top and at the bottom.  If the bankrupt person had a wealthy friend, that friend might feel moved to wipe out the debt.  If so, the friend would remove the bottom nail, fold over the parchment, re-secure the list with that nail, and write his signature across the document. This action signified to all that the wealthy friend would cover all his debtor friend owed.  How fortunate for the debtor!

         This is exactly what Jesus Christ has done for us.  Like that ancient debtor, we too were/are over our heads in what we owed God for having sinned against Him.  But in our case, Jesus is our wealthy friend, our Divine Benefactor.  His death atoned for (covered the cost of) our sins.  By going to the Cross, our sinless Savior signified that He had taken on our punishment.  Since Scripture tells us the wages of sin is death, Jesus’ substitionary death by crucifixion totally wiped out our debt to God the Father.  From the Cross, Christ wrote paid across the list of our sins. Jesus, our Divine Benefactor, did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  What a blessing!  What a testimony to God’s love, grace, and mercy!

         Our Scripture passages today all speak of God’s love, grace, and mercy.  On this 1st Sunday of Lent, let’s be Bereans (the original folks from Missouri, the “Show me State”) and examine them to see.

         A.  Genesis 9:8-17After flooding the earth and wiping out all life forms except those in the ark, God establishes a covenant with Noah, his sons, their wives, all future humans, and all animals.  God Himself promised Noah He would never again judge the earth with a worldwide flood.  People then must have been pretty bad to have brought on such a drastic punishment!  Out of all the persons on earth, only Noah, his wife, and his 3 sons and their wives, were righteous (Would we have made it into the ark?).  Of all the persons on earth then, only8 were spared.  YIKES!  Did God have to make a promise to Noah?  No!  He’s God.  He’s not beholden to anyone.  Nevertheless, He made Noah an unconditional promise to never punish humankind with another flood.  This is why Biblical scholars believe the next big punishment will come by fire, wind, plagues, and/or earthquakes.  God then went on to sign this promise with the symbol of the rainbow.  This symbol has been co-opted by the LGBTQ movement; but it was originally meant as a symbol of God’s covenant commitment to us.  This passage demonstrates God’s love, grace and mercy to humankind (and to animal-kind, as well).

         B. Psalm 25:1-10.  This psalm was composed by King David as a plea for God’s mercy and for deliverance from David’s enemies.  It’s written as an acrostic, with each verse beginning with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. An American example of this might be the following:

                          A-All of us look to God,

                          B–because He loves us and is powerful.

                          C—Consequently we can trust in Him to care for us, etc.

In this psalm, David expresses his confidence in God to care for him in his time of trouble.  

         Verses 1-3 articulateDavid’s plea that God would thwart his enemies, especially those who transgress against him without reason or justification.

You might be able to think of someone like that in your life.  Two families in our congregation are currently being pestered and annoyed by a mean and vengeful neighbor.  They aren’t even aware of what they have done to set this unforgiving and unhinged man off.   Notice that David doesn’t gossip or talk ugly about his enemies, but just takes his complaint about them to the Lord.  This is what we need to do about this aggravating and threatening neighbor.  Pray for him.  Pray for a change in his heart and in his thinking.  As Paul says, this kind of response will heap burning coals on his head.

         In verses 4-5, David moves to asking God to teach him God’s ways.

He wants to be led by God’s Truths.  He obediently waits upon the Lord for guidance.  In verse 6, David asks God to…remember Your tender mercies and Your loving kindnesses.       But, in verse 7, he beseeches God to please forget his sins.  Even though Jesus has not yet come to redeem David’s sins, David is hopeful he will receive God’s pardon by asking.

Finally, as he also wrote in Psalm 23:6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life…, he sums up his confidence and trust in the Lord.  David’s faith and certainty in the Lord are a great model for us.

         C.  1 Peter 3:18-22 returns us to the theme that Jesus died for to make atonement for our sins.  Peter reminds his readers in verse 18àFor Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.  Eugene Peterson paraphrases it this way in The Message:  that’s what Christ did, definitively:  Suffered because of others’ sins–the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones.  He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God.  Once again, we are being reminded that Jesus paid the price for our sins.

         Then Peter makes reference to Noah.  He surprisingly claims that God worked through Noah for 120 years to bring the lawless and the sinful to God (construction of the ark apparently took 120 years).  Some scholars believe Peter may have instead been referring to the interval between Jesus’ death and resurrection, suggesting that Jesus went into Hades to preach repentance to those of Noah’s time who had not submitted themselves to God during their lives.  Whatever the case, Peter restates that only 8 persons were saved from the flood.  Noah and his family went through a symbolic baptism.  During the flood, their sins–not their bodies–were washed away, as are ours when we are baptized into Christ.

         As a man who once abandoned Christ, Peter wants us to realize that it is Jesus’ death and resurrection that save us.  Again, as Peterson summarizes verse 22àJesus has the last word on everything and everyone, from angels to armies.  He’s standing right alongside God, and what He says goes.

         D.  Mark 1:9-15.

         John Mark very concisely sets out Jesus’ baptism, His temptation in the desert for 40 days, and how He emerges from this time of       testing to begin His ministry.  Like His cousin, John the Baptist, Jesus calls folks to repentance.  But He goes beyond John the Baptist in that, rather than state that Messiah is coming, He declares (v.15)…the kingdom of God is near.  In other words, God is near them in the person of Jesus; or, God rules and reigns on the earth through Jesus.

         I have preached to you several times already about Jesus’ baptism and temptations.  Today, let me just emphasize that He was probably temped all 40 days in the wilderness.  Scripture only makes mention of 3 big temptations, but I believe we can rest assured that Satan was relentless with Jesus—just as he is with us!  Is it only me, or do you find that the evil one tempts you daily, almost constantly?

         Then, having resisted these temptations, Jesus initiates His ministry with power!  He doesn’t falter or flatter.  He says, essentially (again, re Peterson)àTime’s up!  God’s Kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message [the Gospel; the Good News].  What is that Good News?  It is that…

                          1.) God loves us with a steadfast and generous love.

                          2.) So much so that He sent His only Son to take on the penalty for our debts.

                          3.) We don’t have to work our way into God’s favor.

                          4.) We enjoy God’s favor due to the selfless, saving death  of Christ.

         Today is the 1st Sunday of Lent.  Our Scriptures remind us that Jesus Christ is our Divine Benefactor.  He paid the price for our sins so that we don’t have to.  He paid the price for our sins because we, like the massive debtor of ancient times, could not do so for ourselves.  As I said on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a time to re-evaluate our relationship to God, to take a searching moral inventory (Step 4 of AA) of our sinfulness, and to repent and to ask God’s forgiveness.

         Because of our Diving Benefactor, Jesus, we can trust in God’s love, grace, and mercy towards us.   Whether you choose to give up something for Lent or to take on a new spiritual discipline, let’s be sure to express our gratitude to God the Father for sending us Jesus Christ, our  Divine Benefactor    .  Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ!                                

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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