Pastor Sherry’s message for May 16, 2021
Scriptures: Acts 1:15-26; Ps 1, 1 Jn 5:9-13; Jn 17:6-19
Bishop Alf Stanway was the first Dean President of the seminary I attended in Ambridge, PA (just west of Pittsburgh). He had passed away by the time I got there, but stories about him abounded. I learned much that deepened my faith from his approach to life. One of my favorites came from his tenure as the Principal of a Christian Boarding School in Kenya. Besides teaching the usual academic subjects, this school also trained the students in skills they could use to make a living. Alf had just assumed his position as principal when he learned they needed someone skilled to teach tailoring. The only tailors anyone could think of in the area were Muslims. Alf wanted only Christian instructors at his school, so he worked tirelessly to locate a Christian tailor. None of his efforts, however, yielded an appropriate applicant.
He was soon called away to attend a conference but found he could not concentrate on the speakers due to his anxieties about locating a Christian tailor to teach his students. He knew he had to let go of his worry and so he prayed that God would take it away. What an interesting prayer. How often do we consider asking God to remove a particular worry from us? Aren’t we usually praying, instead, for the solution to what is plaguing us?
God so completely removed his worry that it was only as he re-entered his office at the school that he remembered he still had no one to teach tailoring. Classes were set to begin in 3 days! YIKES! He greeted his clerk, Joseph, and asked what he thought could be done about a Christian tailor. Joseph responded with a big smile—some Kenyans have very dark skin and very white teeth, so when they smile it is dazzling! Joseph smiled and replied, “There is now a tailor in the sewing workshop. Go see for yourself if you think he is qualified.” While Alf had been away, a Christian tailor had heard of the vacancy and had come to check it out. Joseph had asked for a demonstration of his skills. Alf took a look at the man’s tailoring and hired him on the spot.
Not only had God removed Bishop Alf’s worry, but He had sent him a Christian tailor. God answered the spoken prayer, and also met the attendant, unspoken need.
Our Scriptures today all remind us that we can, like Bishop Stanway, safely depend upon the Lord:
In our Acts 1:15-26 passage, Peter and the 119 other disciples are praying. Jesus has ascended into heaven after having told them to wait upon the baptism of the Holy Spirit. So, they obediently meet daily to pray together and to encourage one another. On this particular occasion, the topic of a replacement among the 12 for Judas Iscariot comes up. Peter addresses them all and explains both how Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and his subsequent suicide had been predicted in Scripture, as well as the consequent need for a replacement Apostle. This would be like having a JV or 2nd stringer elevated to Varsity status. They determined that the primary requirement was having been an eye-witness to Jesus and His work. The newly elevated candidate had to have been with Jesus from the beginning of His earthly ministry (His baptism), through His crucifixion and resurrection, and including His ascension–which we honor today. In other words, they were united in searching out a legitimate witness—just as Bishop Stanwaywanted only a Jesus-believing tailor.
The group no doubt talked it over and then arrived at two candidates, Joseph Barsabbas (also called Justus) and Matthias. Both men met the criteria. However, rather than taking a Roberts Rule of Order vote, they enlisted the guidance of the Holy Spirit through casting lots. The idea was that the Holy Spirit would superintend the process and lead them to the “right” person. I experienced how this works some years ago—prior to attending seminary–when I served on a “call committee” whose job it was to select a new pastor for our church. There were 12 of us and we decided all issues by unanimous vote—assuming the Holy Spirit would lead us all into agreement. Over a year, we narrowed our focus from 99 contenders to two. When we tried to take a vote on the final two, we were repeatedly stymied at 11-1. I was the lone dissenter. I believed firmly that I had been told by the Lord to “stand firm” for this particular nominee. Our committee took several votes, all of which resulted in the same impasse. Someone suggested we drop the unanimous rule for this decision, but I reminded them we would need a unanimous vote to do so and I would not agree to such a change until after this decision had been made. (Hadn’t we learned somewhere, “Don’t change the horse in the middle of the stream?”)
Finally, after much frustration and even anger expressed towards me, someone suggested we cast lots. Knowing this was both Biblical and that the Holy Spirit would guide this process, I was willing to go along with it. We agreed to fill a basket with 12 gold wrapped and 12 purple wrapped hard candies, the gold indicating the one candidate, the purple representingthe other. A clerk passed the basket around above our heads and we each had to reach up to draw out our selection. I was there and I saw all 12 of us draw the same color! The probabilities of this happening—without the guidance of the Holy Spirit—are so miniscule as to be impossible. The one we selected was the one I had held out for. But now all of us knew that candidate must have had the approval of the Holy Spirit.
So the lesson is clear, both from Scripture and from my experience 25some odd years ago, that we can depend upon the Lord to help us make a right choice.
Psalm 1àContrasts for us the behavior and destinies of godly and ungodly folks. The godly or righteous person does not…
(1) Listen to those who leave God out of their lives. Six years ago, I was teaching Psychology in a community college nearby. I noticed that my three sections each semester were loaded with the maximum of 35 students. I asked the department secretary why I had so many students when other adjunct professors had fewer. She told me it was because the kids had learned I am a Christian. Students knew of non-Christian professors who would ridicule them publically for their faith. They assumed I was safe, so they piled in. They wisely did not want to listen to—or be graded by—those who exclude God from their lives.
(2) Exclusively hang out with the godless. We need to interact with those who do not know Jesus so them we can tell them about Him. But if we hang only with them, we are likely to be brought down by our associations. Remember when we were either raising teens or when we were a teen. We knew that associating with “bad actors” would probably lead us into trouble. My college students who tried to quit smoking for their “Self-Change Project” I assigned each semester, soon learned they had to stop hanging out with the smokers in order to truly kick the habit. Associating with smokers just continually tempted them to smoke again.
(3) Join in with the jeering of atheists. Similar to point (2), it is all too easy to find yourself a victim of group think; that is of conforming with the dominant views of the group and becoming contemptuous of God if you hang out with a crowd who expresses contempt toward Him.
What the godly person does is meditate on Scripture. This word, meditate literally means chew the cud, like a cow. The godly person reads the Bible carefully and over and over again. Each reading is made with a view toward understanding both what it meant to the folks living in Jesus’ time as well as what it means for us now. As you read a passage, askyourself, “What is God saying to me through this passage?”
The godly person also derives his/her blessings from being planted in Christ, or being born again. This keeps us connected to the vineàJesus.
This keeps us drinking in living wateràJesus. The psalm goes on to state that the ungodly person does not do these things. The ungodly person does not stay connected to Jesus. The ungodly, or the wicked, therefore, will be judged and will perish.
So, the question Psalm 1 provokes is, “Are we going to live like godly persons or ungodly persons?” The choice is ours.
In 1 John 5:9-13, the Apostle John makes it abundantly clear that the key to eternal life is Jesus. We have life if we trust in the testimonies of 3 kinds of witnesses:
(1) People All of those who lived with and followed Jesus. 500 eyewitnesses encountered Him after His resurrection, and countless thousands during His years of earthly ministry. They knew He was/is the heaven-sent Son of God.
(2) God the Holy Spirit He was present at Jesus’ baptism (in the form of a dove hovering over His head), and at work in all of His miracles.
(3) God the Father He audibly affirmed Jesus at both His baptism and on the Mount of Transfiguration. He also restored Him to life in the Resurrection and empowered His ascension into Heaven.
According to John, we have life if we believe in Jesus Christ (verses11-12) And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
This lesson is straightforward and clear. We can depend upon Jesus to honor our faith in Him. If we love and believe in Jesus, we are Heaven-bound.
Finally, in our Gospel lesson, John17:6-19, we are eavesdroppers on Jesus’ great intercessory prayer for us believers. He has completed the Last Supper and is probably on His way to the Mount of Olives when He prays to the Father for us (obviously out loud so that John could overhear).
He reports to His Father that He has been obedient to complete His mission: the Rescue Plan. He has said to His followers what the Father told Him to say. He has taught them what the Father told Him to teach. While He came to save the world, He is here praying only for those who believe in Him.
Verse 9 I pray for them [believers]. I am not praying for the world.
Amazingly, we are among His final thoughts before He goes to the Cross.
He also asks the Father to protect us…not to take us out of the world because we have ministry to do; but, rather, to be kept safe from the Evil One and from wicked people while we remain here. He asks the Father to sanctify us, consecrate us. Set us apart as those who believe in the Truth, the Truth He taught us. Jesus makes it clear that He continues to intercede for us and that we have a mission to the world. He defends us to the Father against the accusations of the Devil. He prays for our success with godly living, and in sharing with others what Jesus has done for us.
I hope that you, like me, find this tremendously comforting! Who better to plead our cause than Jesus? As Paul says in Romans 8:31à…If God is for us, who can be against us? And again, in verse 35àWhoshall separate us from the love of Christ? These are both rhetorical questions. They don’t require an answer because the answer is obvious:
We can depend upon our God because He meets our needs, both spoken and unspoken. He can and does lead us to make wise decisions. He teaches us, through His Word, how to remain connected to the Source of eternal life. He gives us eternal life when we choose to believe in Jesus. Jesus intercedes for us daily before the throne of His Father.
We can, like Bishop Stanway—and many Christ-followers just like him—depend upon the Lord. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ! Alleluia, alleluia!
©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams