Pastor Sherry’s message for December 4, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 11:1-10; Ps 72:1-7,18-19; Ro15:4-13; Matt 3:1-12

Someone asked me recently if I preached sermons I find online. I told the person that I do not. I write my own—hopefully with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit–but do locate online illustrations that are relevant to what I hope to convey. In that light, I have borrowed the following story from a Pastor online named Chuck Lawless (Jan 29, 2019):

He recalled that some years back he and his wife lived next door to a little boy named Charlie. One day there was a knock at their door, and Charlie stood there asking if the Pastor could please come out and play. Pastor Chuck figured “Sure, why not? The kid was a nice little guy.”

He discovered that Charlie had just received a new whiffle ball and bat. The child proceeded to tell the pastor, “Here’s what we do, Mr. Chuck. I’ll stand back here,” he said, “you throw the ball, and I’ll hit it.” Chuck threw his first pitch, only to see Charlie swing and miss the ball by several feet. He encouraged the little guy, adjusted his hands on the bat, then threw a 2nd time, only to have the kid miss again. The next pitch was no better – Charlie missed it again.

By now the child was exasperated – at the Pastor! He hefted the ball back to Chuck and yelled out to him, “Mr. Chuck, you’re doin’ it wrong!”

“What do you mean that I’m doing it wrong, Charlie?”

The boy answered: “Mr. Chuck, you’re supposed to be throwing the ball where I’m swinging the bat!”

At the time, he laughed over the boy’s logic…until it occurred to him later that we often treat God the same way. He says, “We’re willing to follow God as long as His plans meet ours, as long as what He demands fits inside our own box – as long as He’s pitching the ball where we’re swinging the bat. That’s not the way it works, however. The Almighty God, the Creator of the world, the Ruler of the universe does not adjust His pitching to where we’re swinging the bat. We’re the ones who must make the adjustments; we follow God and do whatever He demands, even if His plans stretch us.”

Our Advent preparation focus today is on peace; we lit the second or peace candle. Our Gospel lesson describes the work of John the Baptist. So, you might be wondering what does doing things God’s way, or even John the Baptist (JtB), have to do with peace? John, for instance, seems bent on shaking up, maybe even destroying folks’ peace. His message was essentially, Repent! In the original Greek, the word is metanoia. It means to turn, to change, to reverse oneself. It was not a particularly religious word back then. Instead, it was an ordinary, everyday word for turning around (execute a u-turn) and commence immediately to go the other way. But the sense of the word as JtB uses it is not just changing your mind, but totally re-orienting your will. He is saying, If you want true peace, you need to go the direction God is going; If you want true peace, you need to do things the way God wants them.

So, if God’s way is not the way we have been doing things, what are we to do? Here are some possibilities:

1. Consider Giving God a blank check. Don’t put any restrictions or limitations on what you want Him to do. I once counseled a guy who was frustrated about finding a wife. As we processed his dilemma, I discovered he had a whole check list of qualities and characteristics he wanted God to match: pretty, good figure, brunette, green eyes, etc. His list contained all physical attributes—nothing about her character or her personality. Now could God have located a woman who matched his list? Of course. But the Lord had not. Like Charlie, the fellow wanted God to throw the ball where his bat was.

Certainly we can make suggestions to the Lord, but we also need to let God be God. We need to swing our bat where He is pitching the ball.

2. Ask God to show you if there are areas of your life where you are waiting for God to adjust, rather than the other way around. Let’s say God tells you you are too stubborn, too proud, or too rigid? Are you willing to accept His assessment and turn around or turn away from that behavior? Recently a friend told me God had used a pastor to tell him he lacked a heart-to-heart relationship with Jesus. At first this fellow was insulted; but as he thought and prayed about it, he realized the man had been right. He had a head-knowledge of our Lord, but no true relationship with Him. Thankfully, he agreed to change this.

3. Finally—and this is a big one–try hard not to get frustrated with God’s plans for you. I thought God had called me into ordained ministry, after getting my doctorate in Psychology, so that I could do therapy with the clergy. That really never worked out! Instead, here I serving Him and you as a pastor in this church, and happy to do so. I have learned from this that the path to peace is following God’s will. Also, God’s path to peace often involves waiting. Have you ever noticed that many of the Old Testament saints had to wait for years to obtain their promised rewards? I think of waiting as the crucible of the saints. God uses the time to wear off our rough and sharp edges, to mold and shaped our character.

But, to get back to Chuck Lawless’ story, I have had to make adjustments to my swing, instead of expecting God to fulfill my plans—and perhaps you have too.

Let’s turn to our Gospel lesson again–John the Baptist’s words to the Pharisees and Sadducees were straight and true! They had joined the crowds that were coming to JtB, ostensibly to ask to receive the baptism of repentance. So why did John blast them, calling them “you brood of vipers”? He called them out because, as a prophet, he knew they had joined the crowd only out of curiosity. They were not there to humbly ask God’s forgiveness because they realized they needed to change. They did, in fact, need to change their hearts toward God and toward God’s people, but they were clearly unwilling to change.

So he thundered at them, Bear fruit worthy of repentance! What he meant was “Let me see some evidence of a changed direction in your life. You guys seem to believe because you are leaders of God’s Chosen People, you don’t have to examine your consciences, or to consider whether following the rules often means you are missing out on understanding the heart of God. You seem to have overlooked the truth that God is heading in one direction, and you insist you are following Him, even though you are wrong-headedly going the other way.”

If the Kingdom of God is at hand—and if we want the Advent peace God promises–what must we do to get ready? We want to look at the direction God is going, get ourselves turned around, and follow Him. It’s not up to us to debate the quality or direction of God’s pitches. We can insist on our own way and lose out. Or we can surrender our wills to His and join Him.

That’s where we will ultimately find the peace that Isaiah describes in his Chapter 11:6-9 passage this morning:

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the kid [young goat], the calf and lion and the yearling [young deer] will eat from the same trough, and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent. Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on My holy mountain, for the whole earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Oh Lord, may it be so and soon! Amen and Amen!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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