Pastor Sherry’s message for May 14, 2023

Scriptures: Acts 17:22-31; Ps 66:8-20; 1 Pet 3:13-22; Jn 14:15-21

On Mother’s Day, in America, we try to honor or remember our mothers with love. We tend to think of all the ways they shaped our lives. One humorous soul has listed all the things his/her mother taught (Do any of these sound familiar?):

1. My mother taught me religion. She used to say things like, “You better pray that comes out of the carpet.”

2. My mother taught me medicine: “If you don’t stop crossing your eyes, they’re going to freeze that way.”

3. My mother taught me how to be a contortionist: “Will you look at the dirt on the back of your neck!”

4. My mother taught me to appreciate a job well done: “If you’re going to kill each other, do it outside. I just finished cleaning!”

5. My mother taught me about genetics: “You are just like your father!”

6. My mother taught me logic: “Because I said so, that’s why.”

(As shared by website, 5/13/2023)

I found these to be funny and hope you do, too. I remember vowing as a young woman, “I will never say to my children the things my mother said to me!” That lasted until I became a mother myself. Then I was appalled to hear my mother’s words come out of my mouth! (We want to avoid vowing we will never or we will always. These vows can become “word curses,” which have the result of boomeranging upon us until we repent and ask God’s forgiveness.)

Even though today is Mother’s Day, our readings today all focus on our heavenly Father’s love—could we be so bold as to say the “motherly love expressed by the Father?” (When it’s Father’s Day, I promise to speak of fatherly love.)

A. In our Acts 17:22-31 passage, Paul is trying to convince the philosophers of ancient Athens—those meeting, debating, and worshipping on Mars Hill–that they have been revering the Christian God without realizing it. In verse 23, he points out that they have an altar, among the many altars erected to various Greek gods, to…an Unknown God. Apparently they had erected this altar so as not to offend any god of which they were unaware. They thought they were being respectful. They thought they were being inclusive. They thought they were being hospitable. Apparently, they wanted any visitor to Athens to find a shrine set aside to worship any god unknown to the Athenians. What Paul does is to use this altar as a jumping off place from which to tell them about the One True God. He affirms them for being concerned about spiritual matters. They are clearly seeking the truth; but Dr. Luke tells us, back in verse 16, that [Paul] was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. Much like many Americans today, they were intrigued by the supernatural, but invested in empty ideologies (New Age, Satanism, witchcraft, even UFO’s). These beliefs promise power, but they ultimately deliver brokenness, addiction, powerlessness, and heartbreak.

Then Paul begins to tell them about our Lord: (1) He is our Creator, a past accomplishment. He created the physical universe and He created humankind. Paul assures them The One True God doesn’t need anything from us; however, He also doesn’t want us wandering off into idolatry. (2) He is our Redeemer. At the time of Paul’s missionary visit to Athens, that was His present accomplishment through Jesus Christ. And, (3) He is our righteous Judge, which Jesus will accomplish in the future.

Then Paul asserts this majestic summary (v.28) For in Him we live and move and have our being. Our God is the be-all and the end-all. There is no need for all the hundreds of other shrines and gods the Athenians revere. As Peterson paraphrases verses 28-31 in modern American (The Message, NavPress, 2002, p.2005-2006) One of your poets said it well: “We’re the God-created.” Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it? God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better—but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and He’s calling for a radical life-change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right [Jesus’ Second Coming]. And He has already appointed the judge, confirming Him before everyone by raising Him from the dead.

Here is what Paul is saying: “The Christian God is the only God. In His love, He has made it so easy for you, so efficient. You don’t have to worry about placating bunches of gods. Clear them away. You just want to worship, to come to love the One True God.” When I was in seminary, we heard a lecture from an indigenous missionary to India, Rev. Andrew Swamidas. He told us about an event that took place in a city in India. A bus jumped a curb and killed a pedestrian on the sidewalk. By the next day, someone had erected a shrine “to the god of the bus-wreck.” Those poor folks believed they had to appease some kind of bus god to prevent future accidental deaths. There are thousands of gods in the Hindu system, and humans run around trying to keep these gods happy so they won’t retaliate with misery or death. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about doing this with our God. Paul is telling them our God, in His gracious love and mercy, makes it so much easier for us.

B. Jesus, in our Gospel message today (John 14:15-21) tells us essentially that we demonstrate to God our love for Him by obeying Him. Our Lord says in verse 15 If you love Me, you will obey what I command. We can say we love Jesus, but it is our surrender to Him, our obedience to Him, that proves our love. This is truly a case where our actions speak louder than our words.

Jesus continues by describing His gift to us of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is (v.17) the Spirit of Truth. He will live within us and help us to discern what is true and what is not. This is Jesus’ gift to us once He ascends to Heaven. His crucifixion earns us salvation we believers are now in Christ. The Holy Spirit will help transform us or change our behavior to be more like that of Jesus. This sanctification arises out of Christ in us. You could, then, say we express our love for God by cooperating with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

C. Okay Our Psalm (66:8-20) and our Epistle (1 Peter 3:13-22) readings both warn us that our trust in God will be tested.

Psalm 66, written by King David, is a song of praise and worship. In verses 8-9, David praises God for having rescued him (and us). Then he goes on to list all the ways (vv.10-13) God has allowed His people to be tested: They’ve been imprisoned. They’ve been captured, enslaved as prisoners of war. Their warriors have been run over by enemy chariots.

Figuratively—perhaps even literally—they have gone…through fire and water. These two images are metaphors for severe trials. Think of the tough times in your life: Divorces; deaths of a spouse &/or of a child; handicapping or life threatening illnesses, both physical and mental; losses of homes, health, friends, jobs, cars, money to live on, etc.

God allows these things to happen to us in order to…

(1) Test and refine us/change our behavior Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5 …we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.

(2) Increase our loyalty to Him—will we still love Him when things are not going well for us?

(3) To deepen our trust in Him—will we trust Him to then (v.12)…[bring us] to a place of abundance? Remember, God does not save us from all trials, but He does promise to be with us throughout them; and to ultimately bless our faithfulness.

Peter writes in his 1st Epistle that suffering produces Christian conduct. Again, our Lord doesn’t create the suffering—the evil one does. But our God allows it to happen in order to refine our character and deepen our faith. And Peter would know this, wouldn’t he?

Actually, when I truly think it through, the Father’s love is often tough love, isn’t it. It’s sometimes painful. But like the crazy examples I used of what our mothers may have taught us, it is always meant to convey His love and His protection for us. How extravagant and deep is the motherly, fatherly love of the Father for us.

Stuart Townsend is a Scottish, Christian composer who in 1997 wrote the song, “How Deep the Father’s Love for us.” Perhaps you know it.

(1st verse)

How deep the Father’s love for us

How vast beyond all measure

That He should give His only son

To make a wretch His treasure.

I don’t know about you, but I do realize that I am a wretch. I am a wretch who is loved by God and who has been claimed by God. Let us pray: Lord, thank You for Your great motherly, fatherly love for us! We are so grateful! Amen!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams


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