Pastor Sherry’s Message for February 28, 2021
Scriptures: Gen 17:1-16; Ps 22:23-31; Ro 4:13-25; Mk 8:31-38
Who of us has not enjoyed Charles Schultz’ comic strip, “Peanuts”? Charlie Brown, the main character, though just a child–with an amazingly creative dog, Snoopie– is sort of a pint-sized “everyman,” a “mensch” as they would say in Yiddish. Most of us can identify with his earnestness, his longing to be well regarded (especially by the curly-haired girl of his dreams), and his desire to do the right thing. We can also all identify with him when things in his life go wrong. Consider his relationship with Lucy and the football: Haven’t you found yourself thinking, if not saying, “Charlie Brown, don’t trust her to hold that football!” You know she will grab it out of the way just as you go to kick it, don’t you? Charlie, she just can’t resist seeing you fall flat on your bohunkus! Charlie, don’t you know by now, she can’t be trusted?”
Charlie Brown is just a cartoon character, but don’t you identify with him in this? Can’t you think of times you have trusted someone, like Lucy, who turned out to be clearly untrustworthy? We may not have landed flat on our backsides like Charlie, but the disappointment and the betrayal hurt nonetheless.
There is such good news about the character of our God! For all of us Charlie Browns, one of the best of God’s characteristics is that He is trustworthy! My first principal told me, in dealing with high school students, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” She was a 35 year old nun who had been an excellent teacher herself. She mentored me and claimed me to the teaching profession in 1970. In advising me to always say what I meant and to mean what I said, she was conveying to me one of the ways you earn students’ trust and cooperation—and she was right!
Our God says what He means and means what He says. God does not lie. He always speaks the truth. He has earned our trust and our cooperation. Our Scriptures today provide several examples of this:
Genesis 17:1-16. Last week, we examined God’s Covenant promise to Noah. Remember, He promised never again to destroy all living creatures with a worldwide flood. And now, several thousands of years later, He hasn’t broken this promise. Our Old Testament reading this week finds God making a number of new promises to Abram. The pre-incarnate Jesus visits Abram when Abram is 99 years old (Sarai, his wife, is 89). Jesus tells him that he will be (vv.4-5)…the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. The name Abram means exalted father in the Hebrew; whereas Abraham means father of many, or, father of a multitude. Jesus changes his name to indicate the coming change in his status: he is already a father to Ishmael, but by human manipulation. God intends to make him the father of Isaac by divine intervention. Jesus prophesies that nations and kings will come from Abraham’s lineage–not just figuratively or even spiritually, but literally and biologically. In the 4000+ years since this prophesy, two great nations have indeed come from Abraham and Sarah: (1) the Arabs from Ishmael’s line; (2) the Jews from Isaac’s line; (3) and Christians worldwide, who have been grafted into Isaac’s line through Christ Jesus. How’s that for promise-keeping?!
In verse 7, God promises to be Abraham’s God forever. In verse 8, God guarantees that the Land of Canaan will be …an everlasting possession to [Abraham] and to your descendants after you. Nowthe Jews have been put out of the Holy Land 3 times:
First, when famine drove them to Egypt under Joseph’s administration under pharaoh. There were approximately 90 of them when Jacob’s extended family sought Joseph’s aid, but over 1.5 to 2 million of them when they left to return to the Land during the exodus 400+ years later.
Second, in 578BC, as a punishment for idolatry.
Lastly, in 70AD as a punishment from the Romans for continuing insurrection, but actually from God for having rejected His Messiah. Scripture seems to indicate that they will not truly be restored to the Land until Jesus’ 2nd Coming. (They were ceded the state of Israel in 1947, but its borders were/are far smaller than what God gave to Abraham, and there are said to be more Jews in New York than there are now in Israel.) However, the Lord made this as an everlasting promise, so we can be sure that Israel will one day be fully restored to the Jews.
Finally, in verse 10, God says the sign of the covenant will be circumcision. This is done at 8 days old for Jews (13 years old for Arabs). It’s a permanent sign. Unlike a tattoo, it cannot be undone. In essence it means, If I do not keep this covenant, may the sword of the Lord cut me off and my offspring as I have cut off my foreskin. YIKES! This is a serious promise!
Psalm 22:23-31. The first portion of this psalm conveys Jesus’ thoughts from the Cross. Scholars believe He also thought this section assigned for us today, even though it celebrates the sovereignty and the trustworthiness of God. Think of that. Struggling for breath from the Cross, and in terrible pain, Jesus ends His meditations by declaring (v.28) that God the Father has charge of all creation, …for dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations. Jesus’ final word from the cross and in this psalm is Tetelestai, (v.31) it is finished. (This is actually His next to the last statement He made before His death. As He breathed His last, He said, Father, into Your hands I commend [place] My spirit.) How remarkable that, as He was dying, He would be rejoicing with His Father over having completed the work God sent Him to earth to do.
Romans 4:13-25. Paul is trying to demonstrate that Abraham was made righteous before God by his faith, not his deeds. Actions-wise, Abraham was just like us, a mix of good intentions, wise actions, and sinfulness. However, it was his trust in God that makes him a standout, the “Father of our Faith.” Paul makes the point in verses 19-21, that Abraham, without weakening in his faith,… faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb [at 90YO] was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised. This is why it was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham believed God even though biology, science, and common sense would have all made the case that a 100YO and a 90YO could not conceive and bear a child. Oh that we might believe in God’s promises with this kind of unwavering faith!
Finally, in our Gospel lesson (Mark 8:31-38), Jesus rebukes Peter for wanting Jesus to act according to Peter’s expectations. You see, it’s not just science, biology, and common sense that we have to sometimes set aside in our walk in faith. It’s our will, too, that can be problematic. Peter’s understanding was that Messiah would reign victoriously, so he was appalled that Jesus would predict His own death. Jesus goes on to state thatHis followers must deny their own will, or…take up [our] cross and follow Him. His followers must be willing suffer and to lose their [physical] lives in order to gain them [eternal spiritual ones]. YIKES! Isn’t that where we err also? We want Jesus to do for us what we request of Him. Instead our Lord would have us trust in Him and do as He directs us to do.
Are we willing to do this? Do we so trust in Jesus that, like Abraham, we would deny biology, science, and common sense and trust in what God promises us? Do we so trust in Jesus that, like Peter, we would stand corrected when what we desire contradicts what God wants for us? When our will clashes with God’s will for us? When our perception of what should happen conflicts with what God allows to happen?
If you are one of those who want Charlie Brown to quit trusting in Lucy, rest reassured that Charles Schultz was a Christian. He wrote his comic strip over 50 years, from 1950 to the year 2000 when he died. He showed us through the Peanuts gang that some are trustworthy—Linus for one, and Snoopy for another, and some are not–Lucy. Charles Schultz knew and believed in the One who is worthy of trust. Hopefully we do too!
©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams