Pastor Sherry’s message for September 5, 2021
Scriptures: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37
The following story was included in an edition of Our Daily Bread:
A group of botanists went on an expedition into a hard-to-reach location in the Alps, searching for new varieties of flowers. One day as a scientist looked through his binoculars, he saw a beautiful, rare species growing at the bottom of a deep ravine. To reach it, someone would have to be lowered into that gorge. Noticing a local youngster standing nearby, the man asked him if he would help them get the flower. The boy was told that a rope would be tied around his waist and the men would then lower him to the floor of the canyon. Excited yet apprehensive about the adventure, the youngster peered thoughtfully into the chasm. “Wait,” he said, “I’ll be back,” and off he dashed. When he returned, he was accompanied by an older man. Approaching the head botanist, the boy said, “I’ll go over the cliff now and get the flower for you, but this man must hold onto the rope. He’s my dad!”
A story from an anonymous source recalls the initial construction on the Golden Gate Bridge. Apparently, no safety devices were used and 23 men fell to their deaths. For the final part of the project, however, a large net was used as a safety precaution. At least 10 men fell into it and were saved from certain death. Even more interesting, however, is the fact that 25% more work was accomplished after the net was installed. Why? Because the men had the assurance of their safety, and they were free to wholeheartedly serve the project.
These stories illustrate so beautifully the source of our security in life. The boy could have trusted in the scientists as they were eager to obtain the rare bloom. But he knew he could feel true security only in his own father’s hands. The Golden Gate construction crew could have trusted in their own prowess and skills. Nevertheless, they performed more efficiently and effectively with the security provided by a safety net.
Last week, we looked at what it takes to dwell with God. This week, our Scriptures assert that God is our sure hands and our safety net.
A. Our OT lesson contains 6 Proverbs. Together these assert for us our God created all of us. Rich or poor, or in-betweens, He brought us into being; however, this doesn’t mean that He views all of us the same way. As verse 8 tells us, He who sows wickedness reaps trouble, and the rod of his fury will be destroyed. The Bible divides the people of this world into two camps: the righteous and evil-doers, sheep and goats. Those who are evil-doers will reap what they sow. God will both repay their evil with evil (Boomerang effect), and ultimately thwart/stymie/interrupt their ability to continue their evil practices. The righteous, on the other hand, will be blessed.
This point is reiterated in verses 22-23: Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them. Yikes! Again we see the principle of reaping and sowing, of “what goes around comes around.” God oversees the world and punishes evil-doers, either in this world or the next. Even if we don’t see the evidence of this at present, the principle still holds—our God is in charge and we can count on His justice!
B. Psalm 125 is called the “Song of Security.” It asserts that
God protects and provides for us, and that the wicked, in eternal terms, have short shelf-lives. Think of the worst tyrants in history. Many were assassinated; many others went mad or took their own lives. True security comes from our intimate relationship with God. It is as rock solid as the mountains around Jerusalem. As Peterson paraphrases (The Message, p.1072), we can trust ultimately that God will round up the backsliders, corral them with the incorrigibles.
C. James 2:1-17 continues this theme. If he were present with us today he would tell us there is no “brotherhood of all humankind.” Instead, there are two kinds of folk: Good people and evil-doers, those who love God and those who reject Him. The “woke folk” would assert that this is intolerant and bigoted, prejudicial and inequitable. But the Bible asserts over and over again that we chose our path. God doesn’t coerce us to take one direction or the other. Our own choices place us on His team or off. We choose whether or not to join the “fellowship of believers.”
So, given this Biblical truth, James spends 11 verses telling us to be sure to demonstrate/live out loving our neighbor. We’re not to show favoritism to rich people over poor, attractive over unattractive folks.
If we are unmerciful and judgmental toward others, God will respond that same way toward us. In verse 13, James reminds us: Mercy triumphs over judgment!
D. Finally, John Mark (probably writing for Peter) shares with us two examples of Jesus’ mercy:
In the first, Jesus treks up to Tyre, north of Israel, to find respite and rest from the crowds following Him. Nevertheless, a Greek woman (according to Matthew) born and living in Syro-Phoenicia, tracks Him down. We don’t know if she believes in the Hebrew God, but she appears to have faith that Jesus can heal her demonized daughter. She garners His attention then enters into a debate with Him. He appears to tell her He isn’t meant to offer healing and salvation to non-Jews (the children at the table). She may not see herself as a dog–like the Jews of the time would have–but she argues that even they get the crumbs that the children drop while eating. In other words, she believes Jesus offers enough to go around to even her. (I remember how my toddler son, from his highchair, would take a bite then hand his cookies or biscuits to our German Shepherd. As a partner in crime, the dog would gently take and eat these offerings.) Jesus is impressed by her humility, her faith, and her perseverance. He assures her that her daughter is healed. He says she is healed from the distance, and Mark reports that the woman returned home to find it was true. As James would say, Mercy triumphs over judgment. Unlike His disciples, Jesus does not overlook the needs of the non-Jews who approach Him in faith. Our God’s mercy transcends the man-made boundaries of race, nationality, political affiliation, and gender.
Next Jesus travels back south to the Sea of Galilee–imagine how many miles He put on His sandals!–and east to the area known as the Decapolis (10 towns). Folks there ask Him to heal a deaf-mute man. Jesus takes the man out of the limelight (off TV, away from phone cameras). He puts His fingers in the guy’s ears first; then, in a way that seems very unsanitary to us, He places some of his spit on the man’s tongue. (This puts me in mind of “mom spit.” How many of us have had spots on our faces washed with mom-spit applied to her finger or thumb? They should examine its chemical properties to discover how it cleans.) Jesus exclaims Ephpatha! Open up! And the man’s hearing and his speech is restored. We don’t know if the guy was a believer, but his friends had faith in Jesus’ ability to heal. This is yet another example of Jesus’ mercy.
Intent on discovering His “healing method,” I once did a review of all of Jesus’ healings recorded in the 4 Gospels. I had to conclude there was no one method we could imitate. He healed some with a word, others with touch, still others with spit or the command to do something (pick up a mat, go see the priests, go wash, etc.). He even insisted that some healings came about due to prayer and fasting. Though His methods varied, what He did appears to have been tailored to meet the needs of each individual.
In conclusion, we can truly rest secure in the fact that our God loves us, protects us, and provides for us. Again the story is told from a daily devotional:
There is a monastery in Portugal, perched high on a 3,000 foot cliff, and accessible only by a terrifying ride in a swaying basket. The basket is pulled with a single rope by several strong men, perspiring under the strain of the fully loaded basket. One American tourist who visited the site got nervous halfway up the cliff when he noticed that the rope was old and frayed. Hoping to relieve his fear he asked, “How often do you change the rope?” The monk in charge replied, “Whenever it breaks!”
Thank God our God is more proactive than that group of monks!
Let us believe in what the psalmist asserts (125:1-2): Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore. Jesus Christ is our safety net. Jesus Christ—not our bank accounts, our human contacts, our personal power, our intellect, our degrees, our influence, or safety features like security systems, guns, or non-frayed ropes–provides our true security. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!
©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams