Pastor Sherry’s message for 5/1/2022

scriptures: Acts 9:1-20; Ps 30; Rev. 5:11-14; Jn 21:18-30

I want to share with you a poem from 1921, written by the American poet, Myra Brooks Welch, entitled, “The Touch of the Master’s hand’:

‘Twas battered and scarred and the auctioneer

Thought it scarcely worth his while

To waste much time on the old violin,

But he held it up with a smile:

“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,

“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”

“A dollar, a dollar; then Two! Only two?

Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?

Three dollars once; three dollars, twice;

Going for three—.” but no,

From the back of the room, far back, a gray-haired man

Came forward and picked up the bow;

Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,

And tightening up the loose strings,

He played a melody pure and sweet

As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,

With a voice that was quiet and low,

Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”

And he held it up with the bow.

“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?

Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?

Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice,

And going, and gone,” said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,

“We do not quite understand.

What changed its worth.” Swift came the reply:

“The touch of a master’s hand.”

And many a man with life out of tune,

And battered and scarred with sin,

Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,

Much like the old violin.

A “mess of pottage” [soup or stew], a glass of wine;

A game—and he travels on.

He is “going once,” and “going” twice,

He’s “going” and almost “gone.”

But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd

Never can quite understand

The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought

By the touch of the Master’s hand.

Like the old violin, our value is enhanced—and our lives straightened out– when we place ourselves in the hands of our Master, Jesus Christ.

Our Scripture passages today give us several illustrations of what can happen to people who entrust themselves to Jesus’ transforming care:

Our Acts passage (9:1-20) relates the events in Paul’s conversion from being an enemy of Christ, Saul, to becoming His Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul. Since the events we addressed last Sunday, the 11 apostles have been operating out of Jerusalem: They have been active, teaching, preaching, and healing. They have added a replacement for Judas (Matthias); they also decided to add “deacons” to give the apostles time to pray, teach, and heal. The new converts have been meeting together, worshipping, breaking bread, sharing resources, studying God’s word–until Deacon Stephen was arrested and stoned to death (Chapter 8). Now Saul was present at Stephen’s martyrdom. This event culminates in an increased persecution of new followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, who then scatter out from the city, seeking safety elsewhere.

One of them, Philip, leaves to evangelize the Samaritans–and also encounters the Ethiopian Eunuch–and the faith begins to spread to North Africa. And recently (on Easter Sunday), we read about how Peter was directed by the Holy Spirit to disciple the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, in Caesarea, a faith-inroad into the Roman Empire. The Good News of Jesus Christ has begun to spread from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, and Saul/Paul is going to take it to other Gentiles–the beginning of …to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). When we first encounter Saul, he was an extremely zealous Hebrew who thought Christ’s followers were heretics. In his zeal for the One True God, he was committed to wipe out “the Way.” He had grown up reciting the Shema daily, (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. The Shema assumes a single-minded devotion to one God. Saul did not believe that God had a Son, Jesus; and in his study of Scripture, he missed the references to the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, he got the OK from the Sanhedrin to arrest any Christians he found in Damascus, in present day Syria. Damascus is 150 miles N of Jerusalem (in that day, a 4-6 day journey). Those motivated to wipe out the infant Church knew Damascus was strategic because it had formed around the crossroads of several major East-West and North-South trade routes. The enemies of Jesus realized that once Christianity flourished there, it wouldn’t be long before it led to conversions all over the empire.

But, on his way to Damascus, Saul encounters Jesus! Verses 3-4 tell us suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul has to be shocked and stunned! He’s blinded by bright light, a sign of God since only God…dwells in unapproachable light whom no one has seen or can see (1 Timothy 6:16). He hears his name called twice, a Hebrew literary device for emphasis. Saul, knowing he is in the presence of the divine, asks (v.5), Who are you Lord? Jesus answers him, I am Jesus, whom you are now persecuting (v.6). Jesus then directs him to go into the city where he will be told what comes next. He has lost his sight, so he has to be led to the home of someone called Judas who lives on Straight Street. According to verse 9, He was unable to see for 3 days; and he neither ate nor drank anything, which implies he was fasting and praying. Notice he doesn’t get angry with God, but resorts to prayer to discern God’s will. Then, through a Christian named Ananias, Jesus tells Saul that God has declared, (vv.15-16) This man [Saul/Paul] is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show Him how much he must suffer for my name. Ananias then confers on Saul the Holy Spirit for ministry; Saul’s sight is restored; and he agrees to be baptized.

The next thing we know (v.20), Saul began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. What an amazing transformation! What a radical turn-around of a single life in the hands of our Lord, Jesus Christ! In the Master’s hands, we can be directed, redirected, and empowered to do…immeasurably more that all we ask or imagine! (Ephesians 3:20).

The same phenomenon is reported in Psalm 30. King David recounts how, due to the Master’s grace and mercy, he has moved from sickness to health; mourning to gladness; silence to praise. He had been seriously sick. Perhaps he had some variant of the Covid? He pleads for his life, saying (v.9) What gain is there in my destruction [in my death], in my going down into the pit [grave]? Will the dust praise You [my dead body]? Will it proclaim Your faithfulness? David is pleading for his life, reminding God that he needs to remain alive to continue to praise Him. God apparently heals him and he celebrates God’s goodness. In the Master’s hands, despite our trials, we come to a place of rejoicing!

In our Gospel lesson, John 21:18-30, Jesus has just restored Peter 3 times to reverse or redeem his 3 denials. Then He goes on to predict how Peter will die (crucified, upside-down), and reiterates His command, Follow Me! Jesus wants Peter to entrust himself to Him. But in a way so characteristic of all of us, Peter looks around, sees John, and says, But what about him? Jesus doesn’t reveal John’s future. Essentially, He tells Peter it’s none of his business. And John, the author of the 4th Gospel, attests that all he has written of Jesus is true, though only a portion of all the things He said and did. In the Master’s hand, we are restored, sometimes rebuked, and generally always redirected.

What is revealed in our Revelation lesson (5:11-14), however, is the scope of worship in the heavenly throne room. God the Father and Jesus, the Lamb of God, are seated on the throne. And everyone rejoices and sings praises to God: Every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and on the sea worships God–even the 4 Seraphim and the 24 elders. As I preached last week, we are created to worship and to enjoy God. When we do, one payoff is that we will be included in that heavenly service. (Maybe we will even learn in heaven all the stories and healings and miracles John and the other three gospels did not include.)

We sing like that old violin at the auction when we experience the touch of the Master’s hand. Who we are as persons is enhanced because Jesus Christ brings out our very best when we place ourselves in His hands. There is no better place to be. Thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia, alleluia!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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