Trinity Sunday

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 4, 2023

Scriptures: Gen 1:1-31, 2:1-4; Ps 8; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Matt 28:16-20

Today is Trinity Sunday, traditionally the first Sunday after Pentecost. Many people have come up with metaphors to explain the Trinity—one God in three separate persons—but each of these images falls short somehow. Explaining the Trinity proves to be very difficult. Consider this true story from St. Augustine (396 to 430), Bishop of Hippo or present day Algeria. Many experts today still consider him to be one of the premier theologians of the Christian Church. It is said that,

“One day when St. Augustine was at his wits’ end to understand and explain the Trinity, he went out for a walk. He kept turning over in his mind, “One God, but three Persons. Three Persons–not three Gods but one God. What does it mean? How can it be explained? How can my mind take it in?”

“And so he was torturing his mind and beating his brains out, when he saw a little boy on the beach. He approached him to see what he was doing. The child had dug a small hole in the sand. With his hands he was carrying water from the ocean and was dumping it in the little hole. St. Augustine asked, “What are you doing, my child?”

“The child replied, “I want to put all of the water of the ocean into this hole.”

“St. Augustine asked, “But is it possible for all of the water of this great ocean to be contained in this little hole?”

“And then it dawned on Augustine, “If the water of the ocean cannot be contained in this little hole, then how can the Infinite Trinitarian God be contained in your mind?”

(Borrowed from a sermon by Rev. Gordon Curley, dated November 29, 2010, archived on

Again, it is very difficult to explain the Trinity using images like a three-leaf clover (one plant, three leaves), an egg (shell, liquid, solid), or water (ice, fluid, steam) because while these speak to the separateness of the three, they do not adequately describe the unity, the relationships among the persons, or their cooperative work together.

John Wesley (1703-1791), the Anglican pastor who founded our Methodist Church, may have come close. He once used the following analogy to explain the doctrine of the Trinity: He said,

“Tell me how it is that in this room there are three candles and one light, and I will explain to you the mode of the triune God.” “Although each of the three persons of the Holy Community has his own distinct identity, all work together harmoniously as one God to accomplish salvation.”

(Borrowed from Pastor Glen Key from his March 2, 2011 sermon; archived on website

As it turns out, you won’t find the word Trinity in the Bible. People only began to use this term toward the end of the 2nd century. Theophilos, the Bishop of Antioch in 180 AD, used the term Trias to describe our one God in three persons. Later, the theologian Tertullian (155-220AD) who challenged many developing heresies in the early Church, changed the word to Trinitas. The church leaders who met in Nicea in 325 AD, and later in Constantinople in 381, set this reality as doctrine in the Nicene Creed. It’s a way of describing what the Bible tells us about the reality of God—in essence, One God, but formed of 3 distinct persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

But you will find citations of the three persons of the Trinity:

In John 10:30, Jesus says–>I and the Father are One. Later, in an epistle (1 John 5:7), John says For there are three that testify, the Father, the Word [Jesus], and the Spirit, and these three are one.

The Old Testament also mentions or implies the Triune nature of our God:

Job 33:6 refers to the Holy Spirit The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Isaiah 6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? [implying more than one person]. The Hebrews never adopted the custom exhibited by later European monarchs of referring to themselves in the plural. If the Hebrew passage said us, it meant literally more than one.

Isaiah also predicts the 1st Advent of Jesus, within Whom will reside many gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:1-2) A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse [lineage of King David]; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit [Holy Spirit] of the Lord [God the Father] will rest on Him [Jesus]—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.

Our Scriptures today all shine further light on the cooperative functions of the members of the Trinity:

A. In our Genesis 1:1-31, 2:1-4 lesson, two members of the Trinity are mentioned: (1) Verse 1 In the beginning God [the Father planned and directed it] created the heavens and the earth.

(2) Verse 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God [Holy Spirit] was hovering over the waters. Hovering here evokes such a lovely image. In the Hebrew it conveys the sense of a mother hen hovering over/covering with her wings her chicks. It’s a protective and a loving action.

(3) Verses 3-26 reveal the orderly mind of God and His attention to detail. The 1st day (v.3), He—John the Gospeler says this He is Jesus, who speaks creation into existence. In John 1:1,3, he tells us In the beginning was the Word [God’s Word made flesh, Jesus, the Logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…Through Him [Jesus] all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. That first day, Jesus spoke light into existence. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world.”

The 2nd day (v.6), He created the sky, separating the waters above (rain, dew) from the waters below (oceans, lakes, rivers, etc.).

The 3rd day (vv.9-11), He separated out dry ground from the waters and made vegetation.

The 4th day (v.14), He formed lights in the sky, the sun, the moon, and the stars. (Notice, light itself was produced before these celestial bodies were placed in the heavens).

The 5th day (vv.20-24), He produced marine life and birds.

On the 6th day (26), He crafted land-dwelling animals and humankind, the pinnacle of His creation. He said Let us [plural, more than one] make man in our image, in our likeness. Adam, Eve, and the animals were to be fruitful and multiply; and Adam was to serve as a steward or overseer of over the rest of creation, as God’s agents.

So, according to the first chapters of Genesis and of John, all three persons of the Trinity were present at creation. God the Father devised the plan; God the Son spoke it into existence; and God the Spirit was both the power source and the breath (The Hebrew word for the Holy Spirit is ruach which means both breath, wind, and spirit).

B. Psalm 8, written by King David, is a hymn of praise to God for creation. It begins and ends with those wonderful words, O LORD, our LORD, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! Then it goes on to celebrate God’s formation of the cosmos, from planets and stars to humans and infants. We could call this a Messianic psalm because it speaks to a time when all persons will revere our Lord. As we know, the names of God and of Jesus are not everywhere honored today; some use them as curse words. But at Jesus’ 2nd Coming, all will know that God is real, that He exists, and that He rules in power and might. They will then either revere Him or be gone.

C. Both 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 and Matthew 28:16-20 are farewell addresses that include references to the Trinity. As Paul says goodbye to the Church in Corinth, he exhorts them to… (v.11) aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, and live in peace.

None of us is perfect, so what he means by this is grow up! In the first chapters of 1 Corinthians, he takes the believers there to task for being infantile in their faith (preferring milk to meat) and acting out of their carnal rather than spiritual nature. So, he is saying, essentially, “Don’t act like entitled children; learn to live a spirit-filled, disciplined life.”

Additionally, he wants them to pay attention to what he has taught them. He encourages them to try to maintain unity in doctrine and beliefs—which we know presently and personally is difficult. And he wants them to live in peace….We can’t create peace—only Jesus can—but we can conduct ourselves in a way that demonstrates we know Jesus can supply us with the peace that passes all understanding. Then he encourages them to greet each other with appropriate affection—no icky or invasive hugs or kisses.

Finally, he blesses them with a benediction that includes each member of the Trinity (v.14) May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God [the Father], and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. What a wonderful sendoff!

Jesus’s parting words in Matthew 28 are strikingly similar. We call His final instructions the Great Commission:

(1) We are to go! Through our neighborhoods, our county, our state, our country, to the entire world.

(2) We are to make disciples for Christ.

(3) We are to teach them about Jesus and that they and we are to be obedient to Him.

(4) And we are to baptize them (v.19) …in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Paul died but Jesus promises us to be present with us (through the Holy Spirit) (v.20)…to the very end of the age.

So what does this mean to us on this Trinity Sunday of 2023?

The story is told of a seminary professor who asked his students to close their eyes and see if they could summon up for themselves an image of God.

“After a few moments he had them open their eyes and, if comfortable, share what they saw. Most of them said the same thing: “An old man with a white beard floating in the clouds, looking down at us.” [The professor] then said, “If what you imagine God to be like is anything other than Jesus, then you have the wrong image of God.” Jesus is beautiful, and so are the Father and the Spirit: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 KJV).”.

(Borrowed from The Magnificent Story by James Bryan Smith, InterVarsity Press, 2018.).

We want to remember that God the Father and the Spirit are spirits. Jesus shows us the loving, grace-filled face of the Father, as well as the powerful, healing and sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The truth is that our God exists in 3 persons—all the same God but taking on three personalities or different expressions—all of which is difficult for our finite minds to take in. I don’t understand gravity. I can’t see it, but I know it is real and I don’t plan to test it by jumping off a tall building. I think, until we reach heaven, we probably have to agree with St. Augustine and take the same stance with the Trinity.

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams


Pentecostal Power

Pastor Sherry’s Message for May 28, 2023

Scriptures: Acts 2:1-21; Ps 104:24-34; 1 Cor 12:3-14; Jn 7:37-44

Isn’t it interesting that sometimes what you thought you heard may not necessarily have been what was said? Or even if you heard what was said accurately, the words used conveyed something different to you depending on your background and experiences?

For example, there is…

“an old joke that used to be popular around the Pentagon that the different branches of the Armed Forces have trouble operating jointly because they don’t speak the same language.

For example, if you told Navy personnel to “secure a building,” they would turn off the lights and lock the doors.

Army personnel would occupy the building so no one could enter.

Marines would storm the building, capture it, and defend it with suppressive fire and close combat.

The Air Force, on the other hand, would take out a three-year lease with an option to buy. “ (Illustration borrowed from, 5/25/23.)

This joke is such a good example of how the same word can mean something different to different groups of folks. The word Pentecostal is another such word. To most, the noun, Pentecost, refers to the day we celebrate today, the anniversary of the day the Holy Spirit was given to all believers in Jesus, and the day the Church (capital “C”—Christians of all denominations) was born. It also marks an ancient Jewish religious feast day. It commemorated the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest—the Spring Harvest season. Thus it was one of the 3 times per year a Jewish man was expected to journey to Jerusalem (The other two times were for Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles).

But consensus breaks down when the adjective form, Pentecostal, is used. This could refer to a Christian denomination, for example Pentecostal Holiness. A good number of folks associate it with speaking in tongues—and some Pentecostal churches believe you must speak in tongues to demonstrate you have been baptized in the Holy Spirit—though nowhere in Scripture is it stated that all spirit-filled Christians must speak in tongues. It could also mean charismatic—a person who believes in and moves in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Our readings today are all Pentecostal, or refer to some aspect of the Pentecostal power that manifested that Day.

A. In our Acts 2:1-21 lesson, we are reminded of the supernatural power the Holy Spirit can and does demonstrate when He shows up. (1) There was the sound of wind rushing. In this case, it was like the sound of a tornado, but without the wind damage. That sound is like 5-6 locomotive engines rushing by. The Holy Spirit came on with such a loud sound that folks rushed out of their homes to see what had produced it. Prior to moving off to seminary, I asked a group of my friends to pray for me to receive the Holy Spirit. We had gathered on the beach at night for that purpose. A very strong wind came up and blew in my face as they were praying. I felt I could hardly breathe. Afterwards, I asked them what they made of that wind. No one else in the group had experienced it! We knew then that the Spirit had indeed come over me.

(2) There was also the curious sight of a larger flame in the air separating into smaller flames. Stranger still, the smaller flames come to rest over the heads of the 120 disciples gathered in that place. Like the bush Moses saw aflame as he was shepherding sheep, these flames did not burn anyone or anything.

(3) There was also the sudden, unexplained ability of all to speak in tongues/languages they had never been taught. Apparently all 120 disciples present were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. This power enabled them to do things they had never learned nor expected to be able to do.

Wouldn’t it be marvelous to instantly speak another language without the tedium of memorizing sounds, vocabulary words, and grammar rules, let alone another alphabet like that of Greek or Hebrew? These were not just a nonsense languages, gibberish, but actual languages and dialects recognized by the many nonbelievers who were there. People said, “Hey! Aren’t these men and women from Galilee?” In other words, “How do these “backwoods” folk know our native tongues?”

(4) Additionally, Peter—who had been unwilling to admit his association with Jesus just some 53 days earlier—is emboldened to preach to Jews (vv.14-36) about Jesus and 3,000 were so convinced by his sermon that they agreed to be baptized that day (v.41).

Miraculous, wonderful things happen when the Holy Spirit demonstrates His Pentecostal Power!

B. The key verse for us in Psalm 104:24-34 is verse 30 When You send Your Spirit, they [meaning humankind and all animal life] are created, and You renew the face of the earth.In this tribute to the creative power of God the Father, the Holy Spirit manifests this divine creative power. God may have efficiently used similar designs—apes have physical characteristics similar to humans—but He formed them all out of nothing. The originals were adults of two genders, so they could reproduce.

Each living thing is a manifestation of Holy Spirit power—remember, at the creation of the world, the Holy Spirit was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2). In a sense, we could say Pentecostal power was present at Creation.

C. In our 1 Corinthians 12:3-14 passage, Paul lists 9 gifts of the Holy Spirit (He has two other gifts lists in Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:28-31.) These are each supernatural abilities bestowed on certain believers—not for their own entertainment or to puff up their egos—but (v.7) for the common good. They are meant to build up the body of Christ, His Church. They include (vv.8-10) wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophesy, distinguishing spirits (evil ones from good; angels from demons), speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Each believer is given at least one spiritual gift; some are given more than one. For example, sometimes when I pray for healing for a person and lay hands on them, my hands grow hot. The person I am praying for also feels those “hot hands.” The heat means the Holy Spirit is at work, healing them. I do not generate the heat and I do not experience it each time I pray for healing. This has led me to believe the gifting can come and go. Sometimes I have it and sometimes I don’t. It’s up to the Spirit when to apply it. And, again, the purpose of the gifts is to edify the Church, not the person who has the gift.

Think about it: What is (are) your spiritual gift(s)? You have been given Pentecostal power with which to help others.

D. In John 7:37-44, Jesus makes one of His I am statements. Remember, to the Jews, Yahweh or Father God was and is the Great I am. By saying, I am, Jesus was admitting He is equal to God and that He is God. Just prior to this chapter in John 6, Jesus states that He is the manna from heaven; He is heavenly food. Some turn away from Him then, misconstruing is metaphor as a cal for them to consume Him as in cannibalism. In John 7, He says He is living water to drink. Jesus is in Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles (Ingathering, Booths, the Fall Harvest Festival). Believing Jews were to sleep in tents, booths, or tent-like structures meant to remind them of God’s provision for them during their 40 years of Wilderness Wanderings. For the 7 days of this national holiday, they were to do no work. They would worship the Lord at the Temple, daily, to seek forgiveness for their sins and to thank God for their harvest. Otherwise, they were to celebrate, feast, and visit with family and friends. On the eighth and last day of the Feast, the priests would pour water on the altar of sacrifices, dousing the flames and asking God to provide rain for another year.

According to John (vv.37-38), on the final day of the Feast, perhaps just as the priest poured water on the altar Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. He was saying, “I, God, give you what you need to sustain life.” This is the same living water He promised the Samaritan woman at the well. This water is a metaphor for a relationship with Christ that is life-giving and life-changing. John goes on to explain it also refers to the life-giving Spirit (v.39) By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Jesus gives us what we need—life giving, flowing-not-stagnant, living water—by gifting us with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit empowers us to live a life pleasing to God, and to love others, as Jesus commanded us. Just as in chapter 6, His words caused confusion about His true identity among those listening.

But we are not confused, are we? We have the gift of the Holy Spirit, one of whose jobs is to reveal all that is true to us. You know, if you watch the news on TV and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what is true, you can begin to know who lies and who speaks truthfully. We know, through the supernatural gift of faith, that Jesus is indeed the Christ. We also know He has imparted to us the Pentecostal power of the Holy Spirit.

As we walk out this next week, let’s try to remember…

(1) We worship an all-powerful, creative God;

(2) His Son, Jesus, has given us the powerful, power-filled Holy Spirit to lead, guide, and direct us here on earth.

(3) The Holy Spirit also gift us—according to His will—with supernatural abilities meant to benefit others. Ponder what those are for you. Consider how you have used them in the past and might use this Pentecostal Power even more fully in the present and in the future. We want to be believers in and practitioners of God’s Pentecostal Power.

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Jesus, Lifted Up

Pastor Sherry’s message for May 21, 2023

Scriptures : Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Eph. 1:15-23; Lk 24:44-53

Today is Ascension Sunday, the anniversary of Christ’s departure from earth and arrival back in heaven. Of the 5 major Christian holidays, it is probably the least known or celebrated. We delight in (1) Christmas in which we commemorate His incarnation and birth. Many also celebrate (2) Epiphany, in memory of the visit of the Gentile Magi to the Christ child in Bethlehem. Folks count 12 days from Christmas Day to Epiphany, the 12 days of Christmas, and even give one gift a day for each day as opposed to all gifts on Christmas Day. At (3) Easter, we go all out to celebrate Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead. On (4) Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday, we honor both His gifting all of us believers with the power of His Holy Spirit, as well as the Birth of the Christian Church.

Finally, (5) Ascension Day –40 days after Easter–marks the end of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. The Gospels record 10 specific citings. The point of these was to demonstrate that Jesus really had overcome death and the grave. Jesus ate and drank with folks, thus he was not a ghost, a fake, or an illusion. Then He miraculously left earth. He had completed 1st His mission here. It was time for Him to be reunited with the Father in Heaven. It was time for Him to regain all of the divine privileges and prerogatives He gave up to come to earth.

As we read in our Acts lesson (Acts 1:1-11), He led the disciples to the Mount of Olives, gave them their “marching orders,” blessed them, then “lifted off.” They were to await the impartation and power of the Holy Spirit. They were then to share their testimonies regarding Jesus with those in Jerusalem where they were at that time; then Judea, kind of like the rest of the county; then Samaria, like the rest of the state; then to the all the world. Next, as they watched, (v.9)…He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.

To give us some idea of the impact of this often least celebrated event in the Church year, I want to share a true story:

“The story begins with a real life prince, Sao Kya Seng, from an independent collection of states in northeastern Burma. In the 1950’s Seng came to Denver, Colorado, to study agriculture. Since he wanted to experience what it was like to be a student in the US, he kept his identity secret. Not even his professors knew who he really was.

“One of his fellow students was Inge Sargent. Inge was from Austria. Since both of them were exchange students, Inge and the prince quickly found that they had a lot in common. They started to spend more and more time together. Their friendship eventually grew into love.

“Now here is where it begins to sound like a fairy tale, but I assure you it is not. The prince decided that he would not tell Inge who he really was even though their relationship was beginning to get serious. He didn’t want her to love him because of his title, but for himself alone. Even when they became engaged, he did not disclose his secret. Even on their wedding day in the U.S., he did not reveal his true identity.

“However, on their honeymoon they took a ship to Burma to see his family. As their ship docked in his native land, hundreds of people were waiting at the harbor. Many of them were holding up welcome signs. A band was playing; people were tossing flowers at the ship. Surprised at all this excitement, Inge turned to her new husband and asked whose arrival these people were celebrating. The prince turned to his bride and said, “Inge . . . These people are celebrating our arrival. You are now the princess.” (1) Suddenly Inge saw her husband in a new way” (, 5/10/2023).

I know a little about this kind of excitement. When I was in the 7th grade, and again in the 11th grade, the Navy sent my officer father and us to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii (for two 2-year tours of duty). On both crossings of the Pacific Ocean, they sent us by ocean liner. We slept on what I suspected was the bottom deck, but on an ocean liner, it’s all luxury. When we docked in Honolulu, there was a band playing, streamers blowing, and crowds waving and cheering. In fact, there was a group of naval officers and their wives with a sign saying, “Welcome Adams Family.” These were the men my father would serve with on board a navy ship based at Pearl Harbor. It was a thrilling surprise for me and comforting to know that a community of sorts awaited us upon our arrival.

No doubt realizing that her husband was a prince was both a shock and a delight to Inge. Similarly, seeing Jesus lift off into heaven was undoubtedly a shock and a delight to the disciples as well. Once again, their perceptions of Him were challenged. Just as the curtain separating the Holies of Holies—and our direct access to the Father–was opened up at Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus’ Ascension removes a veil and confirms for us His divinity.

For one thing, He did not require a rocket to leave the earth’s atmosphere. He was taken away in a cloud, and not just any cloud. This cloud was pretty special: Remember it was a cloud that guided the Israelites in the wilderness by day. Remember a special cloud hid Moses for 40 days as He communed with God on Mt. Sinai. Remember how the glory of God, in the form of a cloud, entered Solomon’s completed Temple, indicating that the Father had taken up residence there. Remember that a cloud, on the Mount of Transfiguration, hid then removed Elijah and Moses following their conversation with Christ. The cloud in all four examples is the Shekinah Glory of God.

Jesus jetted back to heaven, in a miraculous conveyance, upheld by the power and majesty of God the Father. Consider this for just a moment: In John 12:32, Jesus says But I, when I am lifted up, will draw all men to Myself. The apostle John interprets this to mean Jesus’ crucifixion—lifted up high on a cross—will be what draws folks to Him. Rev. Dr. J. Vernon Mcgee believes Jesus’ resurrection—lifted up back into life–is the truly convicting event. Could it be that the three “liftings up”—crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension—all demonstrate Jesus’ divinity and encourage us to believe in Him?

Psalm 47 is a psalm which provides a picture of the praise and worship in the future Millennial Reign of Christ. After Jesus defeats the massive army of evil people at Armageddon (His 2nd coming), the book of Revelation tells us He will establish His kingdom rule on earth. At that time, all nations of the earth will praise God. Verse 5, especially, predicts Jesus’ ascension God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets. This psalm predicts that at His glorious return to earth, He will reign, exalted, over all people.

In our Gospel lesson, Luke 24:44-53, Jesus holds a Bible study for the disciples, revealing to them how all the Law and the prophets predicted His death, resurrection, ascension, and 2nd Coming. Then He tells them they are to be His witnesses to those who don’t know Him. They are to testify to the truth of Who Jesus is. Even though our courts have stopped acknowledging their Christian foundations (in Biblical Law and British Common Law), we still place our hands on the Bible and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God, when sworn in as a witness in a court proceeding. Jesus commissions His followers to go out into the rest of the world, declaring what they have seen and learned. He instructs them to wait on empowerment from the Holy Spirit. He then blesses them (prays a blessing over them), and then lifts off to heaven in the Shekinah glory cloud. Their response, like ours, was to worship Him.

Paul does not lift off to heaven, but he does pray for the members of the Church at Ephesus (Ephesians 1:15-23). Do you notice that he did not pray for material blessings for them? In our prayers on Sunday (Joys and Concerns), we often lift up needs for physical healing, comfort from grief—even for jobs, cars, help with tests, travel safety, and etc.

But we also ask for the kinds of spiritual concerns that Paul mentions:

(1) He wanted the Ephesian Church and us to develop spiritual wisdom and revelation about Who Jesus is and why they/we need Him.

(2) He prayed that those who do not yet know Christ will come to know and love Him more deeply.

(3) He prayed that all might know that in Jesus there is hope that—despite the political or economic situation in our country, in any age–He is the God of all hope!

(4) That those of us who love Him may suffer in this life, but we will inherit blessing upon blessing in the next.

(5) Paul also prays that they/we might be assured of God’s amazing power. God had, and still has, the power to raise Jesus from the dead (and us too). Jesus had the power to ascend to heaven (and He has promised to bring us there also).

Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus ascended to heaven when He completed His first earthly mission. That is where He is now, enthroned, lifted up, with the Father. As the Creeds affirm, He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and to rule and reign here on earth.

I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait until He establishes His kingdom here on earth. Let’s conclude this sermon by singing together “Joy to the World.” We think of it as a Christmas Carol, but from the perspective of Jesus’ ascension and 2nd Coming, it is more than that:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room,

And heav’n and nature sing.

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns;

Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains

Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

Nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow

Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,

And makes the nations prove

The glories of His righteousness,

And wonders of His love.

 (Sir Isaac Watts)

Amen and amen!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Mother Love of the Father

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

The WHY Questions

Pastor Sherry’s message for May 7, 2023

Scriptures: Acts 7:54-8:1; Ps 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Pet 2:2-10; Jn 14:1-14

Remember when your kids or grandkids played “the Why Question Game” with you? We’ve all experienced it. Perhaps we were driving somewhere in the car, or trying to put them to bed, and they would pipe up with a Why question. Example One: We announce, “Kids, We’re going to stop at McDonalds for lunch.” The chorus from the backseat sings out, “Why?” “Because we all like McDonalds!” “Why?” “Well,” we say, “it’s quick and everyone can get what they want.” “Why?” By this time we are beginning to get irritated. But we’re on to them. We know how this goes, so we put a stop to the game. We say, “No more why’s!” From the back seat, accompanied by giggles, we hear, “Why?”

Example Two: The child has been bathed, teeth are brushed, a bedtime story has been read, and prayers are said. We say, “Good night. It’s time to go to sleep.” Just as we go to turn out the light, and close the door, we hear, “Why?” “Because you’ve had a busy day. You need your rest. ” “Why?” “Because your bones grow mainly when you are asleep.” “Why?” And on it can go, ad nauseum, and ad aggravation.

Actually, it’s a very good thing to ask why! Kids can ask why to manipulate or to irritate, but they can also be genuinely interested in cause and effect, and in finding out how their world works. Someone, somewhere once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In other words, that person meant that we are not to live without questioning our routine and habitual ways of living out our lives. From this perspective, asking Why is among the most important things we ever do.

We must all answer for ourselves the Great Existential (things related to life and living) Questions:

1.) Who am I? (This deals with our identity.)

2.) Who (or what) made me?

3.)Why am I here? (What’s my purpose?)

4.) How do I know I have lived a good life?

5.) Where do I go when I die?

They are not all why questions but they do try to get at the Why? of our existence and of our purpose.

Peter offers, in today’s Epistle reading (1 Peter 2:2-10) some pretty effective answers to the Why Questions of life. As Christians, we know we are children of God, created by our Lord to know, love, and serve Him. That belief answers the Who made me Question. The answer, of course, is God. It also addresses the Why am I here Question: (1) To come to know God; (2) To develop a relationship with and learn to love God; and (3) to serve God and his people.

Peter also offers us answers to the identity and purposeful life questions: In verse 5, Peter refers to us each as …living stones [who are] being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Remember, Jesus is the Rock. He changed Peter’s name from Simon to Peter, which means little rock, or chip off the Rock. As Christ-followers, we too are to live our lives as though we are chips off of Jesus–not just those who follow Christ’s teachings intellectually, but those who imitate Him, in what we do and in what we say.

The Lord wants to use us, as we serve Him, as a holy priesthood. In following Jesus denying Jesus then being lovingly forgiven and received back by Jesus, Peter knows the most important thing for us in life is to be closely connected to Jesus. What is the job/the role of a priest? It is to explain God to people—Who He is and what He wants from us. It is also to help people relate to Him—here’s what helps you draw nearer to Him and here’s what distances you from Him. Finally, a priest assists us to offer sacrifices to God–no longer animals, thank God, because Jesus is the once and for all perfect Sacrifice. But we offer God sacrifices of praise (consider our “Halleluiah Sing” this past Sunday. We each took an hour out of our day to sing hymns to the Lord). We also offer Him our time and talents (to cook, to decorate or maintain the church, to practice and perform music, to operate the Thrift Store, etc.). And we offer to Him money or tithes to help build up His Kingdom here on earth.

Peter goes on to exclaim (v.9) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Peter asserts that we each were chosen. Here’s a great Why? Question. Why was Israel chosen to be God’s special people? Why were each of us chosen to be Christ-followers? Why did God pick us? While each of us is unique and special, none of us has earned special recognition from God—none of us deserves to be among God’s chosen. So why did God choose us? He chose each one of us because of His love and His grace. It all starts with Him. He initiates relationship and we respond to Him. The “Two Bubba’s and a Bible” say it so well: Why were we chosen, royal, holy [set apart]? Because of the pure, unbridled, unadulterated, unmitigated, unreasoned love of God. Why? …Not why as in, ”Why has God loved us, chosen us, made us royal and holy?” But Why as I, “Why has God called us together, what are we chosen for, what is our purpose, our reason for being?” Peter tells us that God has chosen us so that [we] may proclaim the mighty acts of (the One) who has called (us) out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. (Fairless and Chilton, The Lectionary Lab, Year A, 2013, pp.126-127).

There it is! Our purpose is to know, love and serve God by telling others about Him. Our purpose—as they say in Cursillo–is to “be a friend, make a friend, bring a friend to Christ.” Our greatest purpose in life is to help make Jesus known to others. We can do this by talking, blogging, or writing, recounting from our hearts how knowing Jesus has changed our lives. We can do this by assisting people in need, then giving Jesus the credit if they try to thank us. We can do this by the way we live our lives.

Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:1) witnessed to Jesus as he was being stoned to death. Saul observed Stephen’s death and scholars believe the way Stephen died subsequently prepared Saul to accept Jesus (in Acts 9) on the road to Damascus. We can fulfill our divine purpose in life by praying that people who don’t yet know Jesus to come to know Him.

Our Psalm (31:1-5, 15-16) and our Gospel (14:1-14) further illuminate our reasons to love and serve God:

Psalm 31 is a prayer for deliverance from trouble. Certainly being dragged out by an angry mob to be stoned to death, like Stephen–or crucified, like Jesus–qualifies as “big trouble.” Both Stephen and Jesus quote this psalm as they are being murdered: Verse 5 Into Your hands I commit my spirit. Both Jesus and Stephen exhibit the kind of faith in God demonstrated in verses 15-16 My times are in Your hands; deliver me from those who pursue me. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. They knew that whether they lived or died was up to the Father. Both also forgave their murderers as they were being executed.

In John 14:6, Jesus declares that He is…the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. We love and follow Jesus because He is our only route to the Father. People who espouse other beliefs are offended by what they consider to be the “exclusive claims of Christianity.” Jesus is clearly saying no other set of religious beliefs will get us to heaven–neither worshipping the Buddha, Confucius, any Hindu gods, Allah, Baal, Satan, nor even a political party or “the state,” as communists do, will earn someone salvation. The Gospels and the Epistles proclaim that only Jesus can ultimately rescue us.

Jesus goes on to say in verses 9-10 Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father?” Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me? In other words, Jesus is the Face of the Father. The Father is spirit and does not take on human form. Jesus fully represented God the Father on earth.

He gave us a human face to look upon; then, He only said what the Father told Him to say; and He did only what the Father told Him to do. He is what people might call “God with skin on.” So, we know we have lived a good life if we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and if we have tried to live a life pleasing to Him, obeying Him and His Father.

One final thought: Our Gospel passage today also answers for us the final existential question—Where do we go when we die? John 14:1-3 is often read at funerals because of the hope and comfort it offers. Jesus promises (per Peterson’s The Message, NavPress, 2002, p.1948) Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust Me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on My way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. Where do we go when we die? If we love Jesus, we go to live with Him forever in Paradise, in a room or a home He has prepared for us.

It’s good to ask “the Why Questions.” But it’s even better to know the answers. All of the great existential questions are answered, for those of us who love Jesus, though our faith in our Him.

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Imprecatory Psalms

Pastor Sherry’s message for April 30, 2023

Scriptures: Acts 2:42-47; Ps 137; 1 Peter 2:19-25; Jn 10:1-10

I. Chuck Swindoll relates the following humorous stories (The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing,1998, p.493):

A man went to see his physician about some strange symptoms he was having. The doctor examined him and then told him that he had rabies. Immediately the guy set about writing a list. Thinking the man was writing his will, the doc hastened to inform him that he would not be dying because there is a successful treatment. The man then told the doctor he knew rabies wasn’t fatal but that he was making a list of all the people he wanted to bite.

In the 2nd story, a newborn is held up by her feet and smacked on the fanny to get her to breathe. Instead of crying, the baby girl screams angrily, “I want an attorney!”

Both of these stories are about the very human desire for revenge when we perceive we’ve been wronged. Our Cancel Culture today demands retribution and deliberately sets out to ruin whoever and whatever they target. We know this is not the perspective of our God. As far back as Genesis 50:19, we have the example of Joseph forgiving his brothers for having sold him into bondage. In Proverbs 20:22, Solomon, in his wisdom writes Do Not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord, and He will deliver you. Nor was revenge ever advocated by Jesus.

Remember, Jesus forgave His murderers from the Cross. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-44), Jesus taught You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, ’Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….’ In Romans 12:14, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. He continues in verses 17 and 19: Do not repay anyone evil for evil….Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.

So then, we might ask, “What’s with the so called, ‘Imprecatory Psalms’?” These are a group of 10-14 Psalms that invoke or call down curses on enemies. They are a plea for God to avenge the psalmist for serious wrongs done to him or her.

1. Psalm 5:10 (a Psalm of David) says (Peterson’s The Message, p.915 Pile on the guilt, God! Let their so-called wisdom wreck them. Kick them out! They’ve had their chance.

2. Psalm 35:4-8 (another David psalm, MSG, p.952) When those thugs try to knife me in the back, make them look foolish. Frustrate all those who are plotting my downfall. Make them like cinders in a high wind, with God’s angel working the bellows. Make their road lightless and mud-slick, with God’s angel on their tails. Out of sheer cussedness they set a trap to catch me; for no good reason they dug a ditch to stop me. Surprise them with Your ambush—catch them in the very trap they set, the disaster they planned for me.

3. Our psalm today is another particularly bloodthirsty example (Psalm 137:7-9, MSG, p.1079-1080) God, remember those Edomites, and remember the ruin of Jerusalem, that day they yelled out, “Wreck it, smash it to bits!” And you, Babylonians—ravagers! A reward to whoever gets back at you for all you’ve done to us; Yes a reward to the one who grabs your babies and smashes their heads on the rocks! Yikes! These examples seem extreme, don’t they? Human enough, but not very Christian; and not much different from what our culture advocates today.

Let’s consider then why God has allowed them a place in the canon [the standard or tenets] of Scripture:

1. First, they are not just emotionally hot and irrational expressions of unchecked temper. They are instead passionate, emphatic requests for divine justice. Since they are included in the Bible, you can even make a case that they are divinely inspired.

2. Second, in Deuteronomy 27 and 28, the Israelites call down blessings upon their nation for godly behavior and curses upon their nation for idolatry and other serious offenses against God. They thereby pronounced imprecations upon themselves–and their children, in advance–for abandoning God’s commands. No wonder the Jewish people have had such a hard time of it over the ages!

3. Most of the imprecatory psalms were written by King David. They are not really calls for personal vengeance, but rather requests for God’s justice. David was a mighty and a successful military general. However, he also demonstrated remarkable restraint. He spared King Saul’s life several times when he could have easily slain him. He did not exact revenge on Nabal or Shimei (who both disrespected him), nor even on his beloved son Absalom who led an insurrection (palace coup) against him. In each case, he asked God to vindicate him, but was not personally vindictive.

4. Additionally, imprecatory psalms are human prayers asking for God to carry out His divine promises. Notice Jesus says, in Matthew 7:23 that on Judgment Day, He will say to hypocrites who claim to love Him but don’t I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers. This is a prayer based on God’s promises to meet out His justice at the end of times. Furthermore, our God hates sin. Jesus expects the Father to address sin.

5. The motivation behind imprecatory psalms is zeal for justice and righteousness. It’s like the difference between gossip and truth: Gossip seeks to run a person down, to build up self at the expense of others. Truth-telling may be just as negative, but it describes what actually is going on. Both may look and sound the same, but the motives are different. The psalmist is not asking God to destroy an individual, but rather to address and heal the harm done.

6. Usually the imprecations are aimed at a group, a class of persons—Edomites or Babylonians–“the wicked,” or those who oppose God.

7. And often the call for divine judgment comes after many efforts have been made to get the hateful group to repent. Paul urges us to pray for those who persecute us (Romans 12:20, quoting Proverbs 25:21-22) If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head and the Lord will reward you. But he also says in 1 Corinthians 16:22 If anyone does not love the Lord—a curse be on him. Come, oh Lord! In other words, by our grace-filled behavior, we may be able to transform an enemy into a believer; nonbelievers, however, have already condemned themselves.*

*(Ideas borrowed from Sam Storms at, April 28, 2023, article entitled, “Ten things you should know about the Imprecatory Psalms,” which I have collapsed to 7.)

8. Finally, I think they also provide a model for how we should respond to those who attack or harm us, verbally or otherwise: Rather than running down an enemy in person, or on line (which is so cowardly), or—in some cases–in the courts, we should present them to the Lord and pray for Him to respond to them with His just verdicts and judgments.

Now, let’s return to Psalm 137. What are the Israelites saying in this imprecatory psalm?

First, they have been captured and enslaved by the Babylonians. God allowed this to happen to the Northern Kingdom (by the Assyrians) in 722 and the Southern Kingdom (by the Babylonians) in 586. They were being disciplined by God for their idolatry. They had abandoned the Lord. They were living sinful lifestyles. God sent prophet after prophet to warn them, but they didn’t listen and repent.

So the Judeans find themselves in Babylon, most likely digging canals from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to irrigate this dry land. They are despondent and depressed. They see no reason to celebrate in song. The Babylonians, however, had heard that they worshipped their God with songs and psalms, and now torment them to sing again for their entertainment.

It is said that over 100,000 worshipers would sing together in the Temple during the high feast days. That must have been glorious! But these despondent captives cannot be persuaded to sing. They miss Jerusalem.

They miss their home.

Instead, they beg for God’s justice against the Edomites, descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Jacob went on to become the patriarch of the Israelites, while Esau’s descendants were Arabs from Edom. In other words, they were extended family members who rejoiced over Jerusalem’s fall. They also beg God’s justice against the the brutal Babylonian army who no doubt killed children too young to work, perhaps by bashing in their skulls on rocks. They would have also cut down the elderly and anyone with a handicapping infirmity.

The imprecatory psalms are a cry for God’s justice. Our God is able to do what we cannot. This is why we call upon the Lord to redress the problems with our greedy and corrupt leaders in Washington, DC. This is why we pray faithfully every Sunday for God to bring about a national turnaround in our government, our justice system, our communities, our schools, and in our families. We don’t call for the Lord to destroy those who are inspiring havoc and lawlessness in our country, but to change their hearts.

Come, Lord Jesus. Heal our land and heal our hearts!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Faulty Expectations

Pastor Sherry’s message for April 23, 2023

Scriptures: Acts 2:14a,36-41; Ps 116:1-4,12-19; 1 Pet 1:17-23; Lk 24:13-35

I read a story recently from “Our Daily Bread” that tickled me:

“A traveling salesman had a flat tire while driving, in the rain, at night, on a country road. But to his dismay he had no lug wrench. Seeing a nearby farmhouse, he set out on foot. Surely the farmer would have a lug wrench, he thought. But would he even come to the door? And if he did, he’d probably be furious at being bothered. He’d say, ‘What’s the big idea getting me out of bed in the middle of the night?’ This thought made the salesman angry. ‘Why, that farmer is a selfish old clod to refuse to help me.’

“Finally the man reached the house. Frustrated and drenched, he banged on the door. ‘Who’s there?’ a voice called out from a window overhead. ‘You know good and well who it is,’ yelled the salesman, his face red with anger. ‘It’s me! And you can keep your old lug wrench! I wouldn’t borrow it is it was the last one in the county.’”

Do you see how the salesman’s faulty expectations influenced his interactions with the sleepy farmer? He had worked himself into a “mad” over how he anticipated the conversation would go. He hadn’t even yet interacted with the man, but his imagined and negative expectations skewed the way he then approached someone who could have helped him. Psychological research tells us that our common default is to evaluate a situation negatively. We do this almost automatically and have to learn to override this in order to think positively. In olden times, there was a practical value to scanning the environment for dangers. Negative evaluations keep us safe, but they won’t get us to happy. Positive thinking is what does that.

Think about your typical expectations. Has faulty thinking ever been true of you? I once began a new job—prior to seminary—with a boss who claimed she was a Christian. I liked her initially and thought she would be a good person to work for; hers was the 5th firm in 2 years to take over the rehabilitation company that employed my team and me. She called her business, “RehabActs,” and told me she had named it for the book of Acts. My expectations of her were positive until I discovered later that she was using my mental health license to defraud Medicaid and Medicare. I confronted her and told her she was putting my license in jeopardy but she informed me that she was the boss and that I would sign off on services we had not performed or be fired. When she would not listen to reason, I had to quit in order to protect my credentials from ethics violations and possible criminal charges. My expectations that she would be an ethical employer had been extremely disappointed.

How often have your expectations of friends and family disappointed you? I recently learned of two adult children whose father did not invite them to his wedding, even though they both lived in the same town where the marriage ceremony took place, and could have attended. They both discerned from this that he did not hold either one in very high esteem. They were of course deeply disappointed.

How about business or financial decisions that turned out to be mistakes? Or retirement plans? I remember a woman who shared with me her broken heart. She and her husband had worked for years to fix up a lake house to retire to, only to have him die a week after they moved in. She awoke one morning to find him dead in his recliner. She had expected they would live out their retirement years in this tranquil and beautiful setting, but she sold the property on which they had worked so hard. The memories of what was not to be were too painful.

Our readings today address the issue of faulty (or mistaken) vs. sound expectations:

A. Our Gospel lesson (Luke 24:13-35) invites us to consider how many of Jesus’ followers probably responded to news of His death and resurrection. Afterall, death seems so final, the end of possibilities and dreams. These two on the road to Emmaus–Cleopas and a friend? His wife? His son?–were confused and disappointed. Many had thought that Jesus was the Messiah who would help them overthrow Roman rule. But now He had been executed like a common criminal. Rumors were spreading that He had been seen, alive and well. Jesus had apparently risen from the dead! They wondered, “Could this possibly be true?”

Then Jesus sets them straight—in what had to have been a phenomenal walk through the Hebrew Scriptures: Verse 27 and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself. He shared with them the totality of how the Old Testament pointed to and described the Christ. No doubt He shared how Jesus’s life and ministry fulfilled these Scriptures. Did you realize that all of the items in the Holy Place and the Holies of Holies were symbolic of Jesus? How about the way the Israelites camped and marched in the Wilderness? They camped by tribes in the shape of a Cross, with the Tabernacle in the middle and the tribe of Judah ahead of it. No doubt He disabused them of their faulty expectations that Jesus was meant to be a conquering hero in His First Coming. No, He came first as a humble servant to save them and us spiritually, from our sins. But when He returns in His 2nd coming, He will then arrive as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, completing our rescue from the grip of human and satanic tyrants.

Notice, it was only as He blessed and broke bread with them that they recognized Him (v.31) Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and he disappeared from their sight. How frustrating to have Him then suddenly vanish (oh, that resurrection body!). He reveals Himself to them, they get it, and He evaporates! However, they now know they too have encountered the Risen Christ. So, they hot-foot it back to Jerusalem to share their news with the disciples gathered there. Don’t you know they also gave a seminar on their faulty expectations vs. Christ’s reality?

B. In our Acts lesson (Acts 2:14a,36-41), Peter preaches a Pentecost sermon that converts the hearts of 3,000 Jews to Jesus. Having been empowered by the Holy Spirit, he is no longer captured by fear. Instead, he becomes a bold, authoritative street preacher. Gloves off, he accuses them in verse 36 Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. He confronts them with their national sin. They feel both convicted and guilty. They ask him and the other disciples (v.37)…Brothers, what shall we do?

In verse 38, he tells them to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. Isn’t this what each of us has done as we too have come to a saving knowledge of Christ? Our faith has led us to a desire to be baptized with water (if we were not as infants); and, hopefully, we have also been received the gift of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Peter was exhorting them to let go of their faulty expectations of the Messiah and accept that Jesus was and is the Christ.

C. Peter goes on to say in his epistle (1st Peter 1:17-23) that there is no other way to salvation except through belief in Jesus. In verses 18-19, he insists, essentially, that nothing can save us from our sins but Jesus…not money (gold or silver); not power and influence; not personal effort; not other gods (notice the little “g”). No, we are only saved by…(v.19) the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. This is one of the main reasons Christianity is becoming less popular in our culture today. Secularists take exception to the Bible’s exclusive claims. Jesus said no one comes to the Father except through Him; He is the only way to heaven. Many would prefer that there would instead be several routes to Paradise. Jesus is the only way to salvation because it is only He who paid the cost of all of our sins.

Additionally, as Rev. Dr. J. Vernon McGee says, “Jesus was not an ambulance sent to a wreck,” not an emergency response to a catastrophe (Commentary on 1 Peter, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, p.40.) Jesus’ saving work on the Cross was always God’s plan (v.20) He was chosen before the creation of the world [and] was revealed in these last times for your sake.

D. So, what is our response to be—our sound expectation–for this great Good News? Our Psalm (116:1-4, 12-19) tells us: (Vv.1-2) I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy. Because He turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live. Whoever wrote this psalm was a person in distress who chose to upon the Lord for help. Asking God for help is a choice, often peoples’ last option after they have done all they possibly can in a given situation. But this composer believed the Lord would hear and would help. So he or she wrote this love song to God. As the psalmist teaches us, we respond to God with gratitude because He hears us. We respond with love for Him because He replies to our heartfelt prayers.

The truth is that God needs nothing from us. The best gift we can give God is our love. Another great gift to Him is our thanks.

We want to have only sound expectations of Jesus. We are to let go of any faulty expectations that get in the way of a sound faith and understanding of Jesus Christ. These include common misperceptions that Jesus should do what I want Him to do for me to have faith in Him. These also include my dependence on my own wealth, power, or influence–or my own will. King Louis XIV of France (1643-1715), also known as “the Sun King,” reigned for 72+ years. Upon losing a massive battle to the English at Blenheim, he is said to have exclaimed, “How could God do this to me? After all I have done for Him?” God bless him, but what hubris!

A wiser Frenchman, Blaise Pascal (a famous mathematician and philosopher who lived during Louis 14th’s reign, once said, “Human knowledge must be understood to be believed but divine knowledge must be believed to be understood.” If we read the Bible, it will correct our faulty expectations. If we ask for the help of the Holy Spirit as we read it, Scripture will teach us what we can accurately hope for from our God. The Spirit will correct our faulty understandings. The Spirit will deepen our faith and our love for God. Thanks be to God! Amen!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Proof of the Resurrection

Pastor Sherry’s message for April 16,2023

Scriptures: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Ps 16; 1 Pet 1:3-9; Jn 20:19-31

The story is told that… “in 1799 the armies of Napoleon appeared on the heights above the town of Feldkirch, Austria. It was Easter Day, and the rays of the rising sun glittered on the weapons of the French, as they appeared drawn up on the hills to the west of the town. The Town Council was hastily called together to consult what was to be done.

“After much discussion, the dean of the Church rose and said, ‘My brothers, it is Easter Day! We have been reckoning our own strength, and that fails. Let us turn to God. Ring the bells and have service as usual, and leave the matter in God’s hands.

“They agreed to do as he said. Then from the church towers in Feldkirch there rang out joyous peals in honor of the Resurrection and the streets filled with worshipers hastening to the church.

“The French heard the sudden ringing of the joy bells with surprise and alarm. They concluded that the Austrian army had arrived to relieve the place. So they hastily fled, and before the bells had ceased ringing not a Frenchman was to be seen.”

(Website “Ministry 127,” 2023, quoting Walter Baxendale, Dictionary of Anecdote, Incident, Illustrative Fact: Selected and Arranged for the Pulpit and the Platform, 1888.)

There are a number of great lessons in this story, aren’t there? Look at what God can do when we trust in Him for protection. The French had had their revolution (1787), during which they had killed off many Roman Catholic clergy and protestant Huguenots 12 years before. Without anyone to lead worship, provide Biblical teaching, and help nurture and reinforce their Christian beliefs, the faith of the French army had withered to such an extent that they no longer even recognized Easter Sunday! (This is similar to today in America, in that a recent “man in the street” interview in New York City revealed that only one woman out of dozens of interviewees knew the meaning of Easter.) This is why the Napoleonic Army misconstrued the meaning behind the ringing of the bells.

I rang our bell this morning. Bob, the bell ringer when I arrived 8 years ago, has since moved into a nursing home. No one has rung our bell since he left. It occurred to me today that it was beyond time to ring it again. Our bell could also be called a “joy bell.” It calls us to worship and should remind us of the joy we have in Jesus’ resurrection.

Another story is told of a man driving down a country road with his 5 year old son. They passed a cemetery and noticed a large pile of dirt next to a grave that had been freshly dug. The little boy looked and exclaimed to his father, “Look, Dad, one got out!” The person who composed this story remains unknown. Nevertheless, the next time you pass a cemetery…“think of the One Whom the grave could not hold” (also anonymous).

Another unknown person once said, “Christmas is the promise and Easter is the proof.” Our Scriptures today all instruct us in the proof of Jesus’ resurrection:

A. Part of the proof resides in Psalm 16. It is a prophesy written by King David, but which pertains to and was fulfilled by Jesus some 1000 years later. Jesus says (v.8) I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at My right hand, I will not be shaken. From this side of the Cross and Resurrection, we can attest that this was (and is) true of Christ’s life. No one and nothing had been able to deter Him from fulfilling His mission here on earth. The Father communicated often with the Son and because of their love for each other, Jesus persevered through (1) His poverty and homelessness; (2) His rejection by the religious authorities of His people; and (3) through His passion and death, to His glorious resurrection.

In verses 9-10, He states, Therefore My heart is glad and My tongue rejoices; My body also will rest secure, because You will not abandon Me to the grave, nor will You let Your Holy One [Jesus] see decay. Jesus totally trusted in His Father. He knew He would die, but He also knew His body would not languish in the grave. Because of His sacrifice for our sins, those of us who believe in Him can also trust our graves are not our final destinations.

Verse 11 describes His ascension into heaven You have made known to Me the path of life; You will fill Me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.

B. John’s account in our Gospel lesson today (John 20:19-31) describes how patiently Jesus proved His resurrection to the 11 Apostles (Judas had committed suicide) following Easter. First He appeared to all but Thomas, who was absent. His resurrection body suddenly manifested, despite the locked door. We are told He identified Himself to them by showing them His damaged hands, feet, side. This was no imposter, nor was He a ghost. He greeted them in peace (they were scared). He imparted to them Holy Spirit empowerment to overcome their fears, and to assist Him to begin to preach the truth of His resurrection to whomever would listen. The sins of those who became born again through their preaching were forgiven (cleansed by the blood of the Lamb); those who rejected Christ would continue to carry the guilt of their sin themselves.

Then He returned a week later to confront Thomas’ unbelief. Thomas was apparently a “Detective Joe Friday” (Remember the TV show, “Dragnet”?) who wanted to see and hear for Himself, “Just the facts, M’am.”

Like a modern day CSI investigator, he wanted physical proof before he would believe. Jesus knew this about him and patiently provided it for him. Thomas saw, believed, then proclaimed, My Lord and my God. Jesus affirmed Thomas (v.29) Because you have seen Me, you have believed. But He also rebuked him and the others Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. These 11 were eye-witnesses to the Resurrection and they believed. But those of us who weren’t eye-witnesses, and still believe, are especially praised.

C. Peter’s famous Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:14a, 22-32) displays his deepened faith. He has accepted the proof of Jesus’ resurrection. In verse 25, he quotes from Psalm 16:8-11. By now, it is clear to him that Jesus fulfilled King David’s prophesy of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension. And this is essentially what he preached to the Pentecost crowd in Jerusalem that day. Peter wanted them to understand that Jesus fulfilled King David’s prophetic promise (vv.31-32) Seeing what was ahead, He [King David] spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to the grave, nor did His body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Can’t you just hear the excitement, the joy in his voice as he proclaimed this? Clearly Peter had become totally convinced and convicted!

D. In his letter, 1st Peter 1:3-9, the Apostle to the Jews of the Diaspora–those who lived outside Israel–is writing to encourage Christ-followers who are experiencing persecution. The time is somewhere during the mid-60’s of the First Century. Emperor Nero (54-68) had begun persecuting Christians in Rome. It is said that he had set fire to the poorest section of the city, but blamed Christians—even using their burning bodies as torches for his garden parties. (Later on, Emperor Domitian [81-96] would extend persecution of Christians throughout the Empire—claiming Christians were intolerant and seditious because they would not worship the Roman panoply of gods nor agree that “Caesar is Lord”).

Peter encouraged believers in the passage we read today to hold on to their hope, despite any persecution or suffering they might undergo. He says in verse 3 that our hope lies in Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, and is also due to (v.4) …an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power….Despite any persecution we may suffer, we await in faith our own resurrection. Additionally, we happily anticipate joy without limit in Heaven.

Finally, echoing Jesus’ words to Thomas, he commends them (v.8) Though you have not seen Him [Jesus], you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him. We, too, are to believe in Jesus because of His resurrection, the ultimate proof that He was and is God.

The first 2 Scottish missionaries sent to the Island of Aniwa in New Hebrides were killed and consumed by cannibals. Needless to say, it was difficult to recruit others to try to take their place. One fellow, though, John G. Paton (1884-1907)–perhaps distantly related to our army general, George Patton –bravely volunteered to go. When church members, friends, and family tried to talk him out of it, citing the danger of the cannibalistic natives, he said, “I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.” Because of the proof of the resurrection, Paton could fearlessly go minister among cannibals. In fact, he served as a missionary in New Hebrides for 15 years and successfully converted the entire island of Aniwa by the time he returned to Scotland.

(Story recounted on Website “Ministry 127,” April, 2023.)

We too can have the same confidence: We can trust that whatever happens to our mortal bodies, we will be raised to have resurrection bodies. We can also trust that we will dwell with Christ and all the resurrection saints in Heaven. The next time you pass a cemetery, think of the One Whom the grave could not hold, and be thankful.

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

He is Risen!

Pastor Sherry’s Easter message for 4/9/23

Scriptures: Acts 10:34-43; Ps 118:1-2, 14-24; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-18

“Max Lucado, in his book, Six Hours One Friday, tells the story of a missionary in Brazil who discovered a tribe of Indians in a remote part of the jungle. They lived near a large river. The tribe was friendly and in need of medical attention. A contagious disease was ravaging the population and people were dying daily. An infirmary was located in another part of the jungle and the missionary determined the only hope for the tribe was to go to the hospital for treatment and inoculations. In order to reach the hospital, however, the Indians would have to cross the river—a feat they were unwilling to perform.

“The river, they believed, was inhabited by evil spirits. To enter the water meant certain death. The missionary set about the difficult task of overcoming the superstition of the tribe.

“He explained how he had crossed the river arrived unharmed. No luck. He led the people to the bank and placed his hand in the water. The people still wouldn’t believe him. He walked out into the river and splashed water on his face. The people watched closely, yet were still hesitant. Finally, he turned and dove into the river. He swam beneath the surface until he emerged on the other side. Having proved that the power of the river was a farce, the missionary punched a triumphant fist into the air. He had entered the water and escaped. The Indians broke into cheers and followed him across.”

Isn’t that what Jesus did? He entered the river of death and came out on the other side so that we might no longer fear death, but find eternal life in Him.

(Max Lucado, Six Hours One Friday, Multnomah Books, 1989, pp.157-158).

Today, Easter Sunday, we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ demonstrated that He had overcome sin and death by rising from the dead. He demonstrated the full extent of His miraculous power. And He brought us hope for the future (death is not the final outcome for us). All of our readings today refer in some way to Jesus’ resurrection:

A. In our Gospel, John (20:1-18) highlights some of the events of that first Easter Day. Mary Magdalene—remember, she had held a vigil for Jesus, along with His mother, John, and several other women–at the foot of His Cross. She had probably wept and prayed for Him as he hung dying. No doubt she had watched Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus quickly wrap His body for burial. In a dry land with limited water, they would have cleaned the corpse as best they could. They had to hurry before the onset of the Sabbath—He had to be buried before sundown. They then coated the body with myrrh, aloe, and the other spices they had brought. Next, they wrapped it up in stripes of cloth, which would have encased the body in a permanent, glued-on, kind of bandage. This process is important to note because of what happens later.

Mary had watched and must have thought the men did not do as good a job as they should have done for someone as important as Jesus. So she returned to the grave early the next morning, intending to make things right. How she thought she might roll away the heavy stone sealing the tomb is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, she found the tomb already opened but containing no body. John tells us she ran to find Peter and the other disciple [this is how John always refers to himself in his Gospel], both of whom ran to see for themselves. John, the younger man, arrived first but only peeked into the tomb. The older Peter lagged behind, but reached the tomb and charged in to see only grave clothes on the shelf where Jesus had been laid.

The grave clothes told a story: The myrrh, aloe, and spices should have stuck the cloth stripes to the body, like a mummy. Remember Lazarus needed help to remove his. Both men saw strips of linen lying there, as if Jesus had materialized up through them, leaving them behind. In addition, the shroud for his head and face had been neatly folded and set aside. John saw this, knew it was physically impossible and therefore evidence of a miracle, and believed that Jesus had been resurrected. They appeared to have then gone home to ponder over what they’d seen.

Mary remained, grieving. Jesus appeared in His resurrection body and she didn’t recognize Him. Apparently the nail holes on His hands and feet, and the pieced place on His side, were evident, but something about His face and posture were altered in His resurrection body. Or perhaps she didn’t realize it was Him because she wasn’t expecting to see Him. She only comprehended that it was Jesus when He called her by name. He told her then to go tell the other disciples that He is going to see God the Father. Now we know from other accounts that He later met privately with Peter, encountered the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and arrived back to greet 10 of the 11 disciples in the Upper Room, but we do not really know where He went during the middle hours between dawn and later that evening. Somewhere during that time, He had a joyous reunion with His Father in heaven! Mary, then, obediently carried the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection—I have seen the Lord!–to the others.

B. Peter is certainly fired up as he preaches to Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:34-43). He had seen the empty tomb, the discarded grave clothes, and the resurrected Christ! Filled with the Holy Spirit (at Pentecost, back in Acts 2), he preaches with fiery conviction. Dr. J. Vernon McGee makes the point that, “There is not a single sermon in Acts that does not mention the resurrection of Jesus.” (Through the Bible Commentary Series, Acts, Thomas Nelson, 1991, p.129).

Peter reviews for the Cornelius’ Roman household the salient points of Jesus’ life and ministry, emphasizing the resurrection (vv.39b-41) They [the Jewish religious authorities + the Romans ] killed Him by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. What a privilege to have been chosen by the Father to be one of the 500 or so to actually see and spend time with Jesus!

C. Paul reminds us, in Colossians 3:1-4, that because we are “in Christ,” we …have been raised with Christ. We share in Christ’s resurrection. Due to this new position in Christ, we have said goodbye to our old, fleshly selves; and we have put on a new, spiritual self. As a result of this phenomenal realignment/reorientation of our individual identities, Paul wants us to (v.2) set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. If you have read anything about people who claim to have died and gone to heaven (NDE’s, Near Death Experiences), they all agree they did not want to return to earth. Having seen Heaven, they wanted to stay. Similarly, Paul believes since heaven is ahead of us, we should focus on Jesus as we continue our tenure on earth. As children of the Resurrection, we are to pattern our lives after Jesus and keep our concentrate on heavenly realities.

D. Psalm 18:1-2, 14-24 is an ode to joy! The psalmist, predating but very like Paul, invites us to focus on heavenly realities–not the frustrations and disappointments of this life. Because of the mighty things Jesus has done—including demonstrating His power over death—we can rejoice in the Lord and praise Him for deliverance, provision, and protection.

We are thankful because…

1.) (V.1) The Lord is good; His love endures forever.

2.) (V.14)The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.

3.) (V.17) I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.

4.) (V.24) This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

We also celebrate the fact that (v.22) The stone the builders rejected [Jesus] has become the capstone. The capstone was either a large rectangular stone used as a lintel in a doorway, or a large square or rectangular stone used to anchor or align the corner of a wall. It might also be the keystone or middlemost stone in an arch. The capstone (building corner or doorway lintel) or keystone (arch) kept the building from collapsing by supporting what exited beside and above it. Considering this metaphor for Jesus, no wonder we call Him our Rock and our Redeemer.

The story is told of…”a man (who) took a vacation to Israel with his wife and mother-in-law. During their time in the Holy Land, his mother-in-law unexpectedly passed away. The following day, the husband met with the local undertaker to discuss funeral plans.

“In cases like these, there are a couple of options to choose from,” the undertaker explained. “You can ship the body home for $5,000, or you can bury her in the Holy Land for just $150.” The man took a minute to think about it, and then announced his decision to ship her home.

“The undertaker, intrigued by his decision, said, “That’s an interesting choice. Can I ask why would you pay $5,000 to ship your mother-in-law home, when you can easily bury her here for $150?” The man promptly replied, “About 2,000 years ago, a man died and was buried here. Three days later he rose from the dead, and I can’t take that chance!” (Subsplash website, 5 humorous Easter sermon illustrations, April 13, 2022.)

Of course there is no guarantee that the mother-in-law would have resurrected—unless she had been a believer in Jesus Christ. Additionally, we know, of course, that Jesus’ ability to raise us from the dead is not limited to the geography of Israel—thank Goodness! Nonetheless, we can enjoy a good joke.

We can also enjoy the secure future we have in Christ. Like the missionary to Brazil, Jesus entered the river of death and came out victorious on the other side. Because He did this for us, we too share in His resurrection victory—and all of its benefits.

Alleluia, He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Seven Last Words

Pastor Sherry’s message for Good Friday April 7, 2023

Scriptures: Isa 52:13-53:12; Ps 22; Heb 10:16-25; Jn 18:1-19:42

In years past, on this day, I have tried to explain to us the meanings of the 4th suffering Servant Song from Isaiah—how Jesus exactly fulfilled what Isaiah prophesied 700 yrs. before His birth—how Psalm 22 reveals His thoughts as He hung on the Cross; and the events in John’s account of Jesus’ arrest, trials, torture, crucifixion, death and burial. Today, however, I want us to visit and meditate upon what are called “the seven last words of Jesus.”

Jesus made seven statements from the Cross. Each one had to have been very important to Him because to make them, He would have had to push up on His nailed feet to gather breath to speak, while also rubbing His lacerated back against the rough, splintery wood behind Him. To make each statement must have caused Him incredible pain,

But as St. Augustine noted (354-430), “The tree upon which were fixed the members [His arms and feet] of Him dying was even the chair of the Master.” In other words, even from the Cross as His body suffered, Jesus was teaching us. Even as His death neared, He had important lessons to leave with us. Let’s examine them in order:

A. The 1st is “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Through the millennia since, this statement has been known as “the word of forgiveness.” Wow! Such a powerful lesson! As He suffered agony, He prayed for God to forgive the very persons who despised Him and were responsible for His cruel murder. What an extraordinarily loving heart! How many of us could do the same?

But this is the challenge, isn’t it? Think of those who have harmed you, and of what they did that was so hurtful. Jesus is modeling for us what He wants us to do. He wants us to forgive those who have hurt us, no matter how badly they treated us; and no matter how much we might want them to suffer in return. We are to commend them to God in prayer. We are to offer them grace. We are to let go of our need for revenge. We place that desire into the Father’s hands, Who has said, Vengence is Mine.

B. The 2nd is “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). To add to Jesus’ humiliation, the sinless Christ was hung between two guilty criminals. One continuously mocked Him, demanding that Jesus free him from their death sentence–if He were truly God. The other may have begun that way, but in watching and listening to Jesus, he realized He was someone special. Like the Centurion below, this 2nd thief came to believe that Jesus truly was the Son of God. In his brand new faith, he asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His Kingdom. Remember, Jesus had taught (Matthew 7:7) Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives….How reassuring! This guy was in the process of dying, but expressed his faith in Jesus. This is truly a last minute, death-bed conversion. I have a friend who was for years a hospice chaplain. He talked many World War II, Korea, and Vietnam vets in Washington, D.C. into accepting Jesus as their savior as they lay dying. A simple, “Yes, Lord, I believe” is enough faith for Jesus to act on.

This statement is known as the word of salvation because this guy’s faith in Jesus saves Him. You are here today because you have given your heart to Christ. Pray for family and friends who have not yet done so.

C. The 3rd is from today’s Gospel (John 19:26-27) Dear woman, here is your son; [and to the apostle, John] Here is your mother.

Jesus sees them grieving at the foot of His cross and wants them to comfort each other. It is a statement of their new relationship. In this, Jesus’ last will and testament, He provides for His mother’s comfort, safety, and companionship. Even though Jesus had several half-brothers and half-sisters, he gives “custody” of Mary to John. He appears to have been redefining or extending the concept of “family.” We have our nuclear family, into which we are born—mother, father, siblings. We also have an extended family —grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins; a clan or kinship group, if you will. However, when we are in Christ, we also have a spiritual family, people with whom we become close due to our shared faith in Jesus. If our nuclear or extended families are not Christ-followers, we often find we have more in common with our spiritual family than with blood-kin.

Additionally, our Lord never means for us to be isolated, cut off from relationships with others. He has built into us a need for community, or connection with others. Brain researchers have discovered that when we spend time with people we love and who love us, it spikes amounts of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, in our brains, and we actually feel better. Seek out folks with whom you can share your thoughts, your faith, and your heart.

D. The 4th of Jesus’ words from the cross is, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:33-35). This word speaks to Jesus’ acute suffering. The physical was agony enough. But as He hung on the cross from noon to 3pm, He experienced—for the 1st time—the emotional and spiritual agony of abandonment. Remember He had taken upon Himself all of our sins. In His holiness, God His Father could not be present with Him. For 3 hours, Jesus hung alone. For the 1st time, He felt cut off from the strength and reassurance of His Father’s love. Only His solid trust in His unseen and unfelt Father helped Him to persevere.

Did you notice that He quoted from Psalm 22:1? This was a prayer of desperation. This is also meant to teach us what to do when we too feel desperate and abandoned—cry out to God! I was once fired from a church job for preaching the Gospel. Shocking, but it can happen. I went home, knelt by my bed and wept the lament psalms to the Lord. After a brief time, He told me to stop crying and call my friends in Tallahassee, Florida. It was truly a miracle that three of them—all busy persons—answered my first call. One agreed to drive to New Orleans to help me pack and move. A second one offered me a place to live. The third agreed to help me set up a private practice counseling business until I could land a church job. The Holy Spirit worked through my friends to help me move into a new future, 2 months before Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed New Orleans. Jesus is the Only One we can truly count on when we are at the end of all of our own resources. Express your gratitude to Him for times when He Has rescued you.

E. Jesus’ 5th word was “I thirst!” (John 19:28). This, of course, refers to His very human state of dehydration. It was a statement of distressing physical need. Mark tells us He would not drink wine mixed with myrrh, a pain killer the Romans offered to those about to be crucified (Mk15:23). He knew He was to experience the totality of the pain inflicted upon Him. His last drink of anything may have been the final cup of wine the evening before at the Passover Feast. He describes His condition in Psalm 22:15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd [a broken piece of pottery], and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. The soldiers then offered him wine vinegar, which He drank from a sponge lifted up to Him. Perhaps that eased his need somewhat. But I think I thirst also means He thirsted then and continues to desire that all would come to know and believe in Him. May we also thirst for the salvation of the many in our culture who reject Christ.

F. Jesus’ 6th word was “It is finished!” (John 19:30). We know His life wasn’t finished as He was resurrected 3 days later. What was finished was His saving work to bring salvation to us all. Scholars say this was a statement of triumph. When I completed seminary, my graduating class had tee-shirts made for all of us that said, tetelestai, which means it is finished in the Greek of Jesus’ day. At the time, we thought we were being clever. Twenty + years later, it seems to me to be presumptuous and irreverent. We had just completed our mission of passing 3 years’ worth of divinity study, while Jesus had paid it all—the full penalty for all our sins—on the Cross. Thank God we are saved by His blood, the blood of the true Passover Lamb. Meditate on your gratitude for His work as our Redeemer 2,000 years ago.

E. Finally, Jesus spoke His last word, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). What a wonderful final statement of reunion! He must have known He was about to breathe His last, and so He gave Himself back to the Father. He acknowledges that His pain, suffering, and alienation from the Father were at an end. I remember how the OR room nurses gave me a warm blanket and a glass of cold apple juice just after I had given birth (back in 1974). I felt such fatigue and relief that my labor suffering—only a fraction of that of Christ—was over and that my child was safely born with all his fingers and toes. No doubt Jesus too was tired, relieved, and exhilarated.

Where will our focus be when we too face death? And are we willing to commit our spirits to God right now?

(Ideas borrowed from Kevin Vost, Seven Meditations on Christ’s Seven Last Words, 2018.)

Jesus gifted us with 7 final lessons from His Cross. May we taken them to heart. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams