Gentle Correction

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 28, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 2:4-13; Ps 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1-14

This week the Wednesday Afternoon Bible Study examined and meditated upon the passage from Philippians 4:4-9 where Paul exhorts us to Rejoice in the Lord always! Upon further musings that evening, what struck me anew, was his additional recommendation to (v.5) Let your gentleness be evident to all. Gentleness is the opposite of harsh or rough. To be gentle involves being kind, tender, calm, mellow, tranquil. The Bible Dictionary defines gentleness as sensitivity of disposition and kindness of behavior, founded on strength and prompted by love. How many of us can say we exhibit this kind of gentleness?

Essentially, Paul was describing a key quality of Jesus. Except for times when He became irritated with the hardheadedness and uncompassionate behavior of the Jewish religious leaders—who should have known better–Jesus was unfailingly gentle to the people He encountered.

Scripture teaches us to demonstrate this kind of gentleness:

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. As a teacher, counselor, and pastor, I have seen that when I can control myself and not get mad in response to someone who is angry with me, my calm, gentle manner has the effect of letting air out of a balloon.

Being gentle can deescalate intense feelings. I learned this from a master teacher when I was teaching high school back in 1982. She and I came upon a big, burly, mentally handicapped child who was threatening to punch a substitute (This behavior was relatively rare in the early 80’s). My friend simply and calmly said to the guy, “You must really be angry; what’s made you feel this way?” He dropped his fists, and shared with her all of his frustrations of the day, culminating in what he perceived as the sub’s disrespectful, unfair treatment of him. My friend’s gentle response to him calmed him right down.

Proverbs 25:15 Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.

Jesus, Himself, said (Matthew 11:29) “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” He characterized Himself as gentle. So it occurs to me that we should read the accounts of Christ in the Gospels through the lens of His gentleness.

Thinking back, I believe I always understood that Jesus was castigating the Pharisees in today’s Gospel passage (Luke 14:1-14). I believe I have misperceived Him. I thought of Him as taking a stand against them (they would have been seated around the banquet table); using a loud and disapproving tone of voice; and perhaps shaking His index finger at them. I really always believed He was letting them have it for their bad manners and their pride and self-centeredness.

But what if that were not the case? What if, instead, he had been correcting them gently? Jesus masterfully sets the stage with a Sabbath healing. Remember last week I said this was the 5th and final recorded Sabbath healing, which He did in full view of the scribes and Pharisees. The man, perhaps a plant, has dropsy. Dropsy, a fluid build-up in his legs, especially, probably resulted from circulatory troubles. They did not have Lasik in those days. Jesus had been invited to a meal at a Pharisee’s house. The man was there and Jesus saw him and had compassion on him. But before healing him, He asks the assembled diners if it is lawful to heal such a person on the Sabbath. They would have defined healing as work and would have said, resoundingly, “no.” However, by this point, they know Jesus does not agree. So, they remain silent, watchful, and condemning.

We know Jesus then heals the guy, despite their disapproval. He reminds them that they would not hesitate to rescue a child or an animal of theirs who might have fallen into a well on the Sabbath—this too is work! He is once again trying to teach them that compassion trumps their 506 rules for Sabbath-keeping. But sin can and does blind us to the truth. Additionally, even for Jesus, it is difficult to break through hard-heartedness.

But, instead of rebuking them for misunderstanding the nature of God and of His command for us to love one another, He begins a brief teaching on humility. (They were all puffed up with their knowledge of the 506 rules.) Notice, Jesus has witnessed the men invited to the dinner rush for the seats of honor. Typically, the host would be seated at the bottom of a U-shaped seating arrangement; honored guests would be seated to his left and right. Our Lord should have been offered one of those prime chairs (or couches). In fact, perhaps He watched the host have to ask a guest to move so Jesus could take the place of honor. At any rate, He then proceeds to tell them, gently, how to avoid such embarrassment in the future. If you are an honored guest, take the least prestigious seat. The host will then exclaim over the mistake and invite you to move higher. Never assume you are the one to be honored, as that’s prideful. In a shame/honor based culture like that of the Ancient (and even modern)Near East, you will be humiliated if you are asked to move.

Chuck Swindoll reported he had heard about a pastor who…”was voted the most humble pastor in America. And the congregation gave him a medal that said, ‘To the most humble pastor in America.’ Then they took it away from him on Sunday because he wore it.” Similarly, a comedian once said, “If you’re humble, you don’t write a book on how humble you are, with twelve life-sized pictures in it.”

(Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, pp.279-280.)

But even more importantly, Jesus reiterates for them the Father’s view of human pride (v.11) For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Considering who God is, and our standing before Him, none of us should be puffed up with pride. It is up to God to exalt or honor us, either for services we rendered to Him or for attitudes we have of which He approves. Given Jesus’ gentleness, I think He was remarkably kind to them. Being harsh or angry would have just generated further hostility and defiance in them. I believe Jesus was sufficiently calm, loving, and authoritative to issue a gentle correction. But He is also telling all of them that the way they (and we) treat others impacts how God treats them (and us).

Interestingly, He then goes on to address His host, a Pharisee, regarding who he/we should invite to dine with him (and with us). He is calling the man to humble himself and serve those who cannot repay him.

In Victorian England and in 19th century, upper class America, if someone visited you, you owed them a return call. This was the custom and it could be seen as an outworking of Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But Jesus is not just talking about etiquette but is actually going deeper into the meaning of humility. Social paybacks increase social cache/ego. Jesus is urging them all to change their approach to the people among whom God has placed them. They and we are not to lord it over them, but rather to serve them. Jesus is gently telling them that true righteousness comes as a result of giving freely to others—without expectation of reward. Furthermore, the reward is issued to us by God, not by humankind.

Jesus’ gentle approach to the issues of pride and humility really provide an extreme contrast to the current values of our culture. The prideful exalt themselves, today, even above the law. They are self-focused and arrogant. They take care of themselves and appear not to care about the rest of us. This is not a Biblical way to live. It does not please God. And it does not ultimately result in happiness.

Instead we want to humble ourselves before the Lord (James 4:10), because He will lift us up. Let us stand gently corrected. Let’s follow Jesus’ teaching, and also the example of Dan Crenshaw, a junior Congressman from Texas: “In 2018, the comedian Pete Davidson appeared on the ‘Weekend Update’ segment of Saturday Night Live (SNL). Davidson made a crude joke about a former Navy Seal turned Congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw. Crenshaw had lost an eye in the line of duty, which became the butt of Davidson’s vulgar joke. The combination of mocking a person’s disability (especially a disability that came from serving his country in war) alongside a clear disapproval of Crenshaw’s political beliefs led to a burst of public outrage. While Davidson was making the joke, it became clear many found it in poor taste, and the vitriol aimed at the young comedian would ultimately lead him down a spiral of depression and self-loathing.

Davidson then took his anguish public, posting on the social media platform Instagram: “I really don’t want to be on this earth anymore. I’m doing my best to stay here for you but I actually don’t know how much longer I can last. All I’ve ever tried to do was help people. Just remember I told you so.”

When Crenshaw heard about Davidson’s condition, he didn’t do what many do when embroiled in a public tiff: tell the offender the public scorn served him right, or make some other cutting comment at Davidson’s expense. Instead, Crenshaw decided to extend an olive branch, befriending the comedian, and even offering words of life to a person who clearly felt lost amidst being stuck in the cross-hairs of the American public. Davidson recounts that Crenshaw reached out and comforted him: “God put you here for a reason. It’s your job to find that purpose. And you should live that way.”

Humor, it has often been said, is a coping mechanism to deal with the pain that life throws at us. But in the midst of the deep, unsettling pain of being publicly shamed, what Davidson needed was not a good joke, but forgiveness, and perhaps, even a friend who could share the good news of the Gospel with him. In some ways it is ironic that a man trained to kill and destroy his enemies could be so moved by compassion that he reached out to someone who publicly mocked him and his deeply held political beliefs. But that is the beauty of the Gospel, it enables us to look beyond our own reputation, our own pride, to care for others.”

(Stuart Strachan Jr. Source Material from Dino-Ray Ramos, “Texas Congressman-Elect Dan Crenshaw Reaches Out to SNL’s Pete Davidson After Troubling Instagram Post,” Deadline, December 18, 2018.)

That’s gentleness in action. Lord, help us to be gentle. Help us not to push or to compel, or to be arrogant in asserting our rights, but rather to be like Jesus, gentle, and always speaking the truth in love. Amen.

©️2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

When Rule-Breaking is Justified

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 21, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 1:4-10; Ps 71:1-6; Heb 12:14-29; Lk 13:10-17

The story is told about… “Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII, was called by adoring New Yorkers ‘the Little Flower’ because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.

“Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor.” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.” LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions–ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: ‘Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.’ So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.”

(Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Multnomah, 1990, pp 91-2.)

This is a story of grace in action, isn’t it? The mayor exacted the lawful penalty, paid it himself–just as God has done for us through the saving work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Then, by fining each person present 50 cents, he made everyone aware of the fact that no one should have to starve in NYC. It was a wise move by an elected official. It makes me wish we had more persons like him as mayors in big cities today. He didn’t break the rule; instead he enforced it and took it a step beyond.

In our Gospel lesson today (Luke 13:10-17), Jesus demonstrates for us a criterion for when rule-breaking is justified.

The Gospels mention 5 healings by Jesus on the Sabbath:

1.) The first (Luke 4:31+; Mark1:21+) is of a demon-possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum. Interestingly enough, the demons recognize that Jesus is the Son of God. He has to tell them to hush, as He sends them out of the guy. Everyone present is amazed at His power to heal and His authority over demons (the supernatural realm).

2.) The 2nd (Luke 6:6+; also recounted in Matthew and Mark), Jesus heals a man with a withered right hand. Again, the people are delighted; but, by now, the Scribes and Pharisees are feeling threatened by Jesus and are looking to discredit Him for violating their interpretation of what it means to keep the Sabbath holy. This time before healing the man, Jesus asks, Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it? He had just asserted in verse 6, The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath [He is uniquely qualified to establish and interpret the law]. Now He equates healing with doing good and saving life. It is alright to break the Sabbath rule about not working when it involves healing a person. He has challenged their interpretation of what can be done on the Sabbath and this infuriates the religious establishment.

3.) 3rd, John 5:1-18 the man at the Pool of Bethesda or Bethsaida. The religious officials do not see Jesus heal the man—remember He said, Get up! Pick up your mat and walk. Instead, they bust him, the man who had been an invalid for 38 years, for working on the Sabbath. Carrying his mat was construed by them as doing work. He tells them he is just doing as he had been told. They want to know who healed him, but he doesn’t know. He later learns it was Jesus and “rats Him out.” Such ingratitude!

4.) The 4th account is recorded for us in today’s Gospel. The poor woman has been bent over for 18 years. Did she have severe scoliosis? Or a bad bend like a “Widow’s Hump” from osteoporosis? We don’t know the nature of the affliction, but we can become quite vividly aware of what this would be like. Stand up, bend over half way, and take a minute to notice what this feels like. If you were out in public, you would not be able to see peoples’ faces. Your behind is pointed up, which would leave you feeling very vulnerable. And, just like with people in wheelchairs, you might be overlooked or dismissed due to your shortened stature. I once flew to a conference with a fellow named David who was wheel-chair bound. He had a Labrador named Zeus as his PAWS service dog. Zeus wore a small saddle with a handle by which he could tow David when the man tired. Whenever we approached an airline gate, I noted that the attendants usually spoke to me rather than David. He would then speak up and say, “I am right here and can respond to you about me,” to redirect them to his status as an adult.

In our Gospel lesson today, the Synagogue ruler is indignant: He insists, “Today is for worship; healing can take place the other 6 days of the week.” Jesus then addresses everyone who agrees (v.15) You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham who Satan has kept bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her? Her condition cries out for a healing, which Jesus graciously provides. Again, the rule can be broken when doing so might promote someone being healed.

The conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities now intensifies as (v.17) The people were delighted with all of the wonderful things He was doing. But the synagogue ruler and however many Pharisees and scribes were present … were humiliated.

5.) The 5th and last Sabbath healing occurs when Jesus is dining at a Pharisee’s house (Luke 14:1-6) A man with “dropsy” (accumulation of fluid in the legs; Elephantiasis?) appears. Before He acts, Jesus asks, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? As any good teacher would do, He is reviewing with them what they may have learned. He is asking, “Have we learned anything new about how we apply the rules for Sabbath-keeping? Have your hearts changed at all?” The answer is “crickets.” They respond with silence. Jesus then heals the man and asks, If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out? Again, they do not answer. There was provision in the rules for such a rescue. Their Sabbath rules permitted loosing/untying a bound animal on the Sabbath so it could access water. However, Jesus knows their hearts are hard and that they are opposed to Him and to His teaching. I believe the man may have been a set-up, which Jesus would have ascertained.

Notice that Jesus acts compassionately, anyway. Like Jeremiah, called to preach an exceedingly unpopular message to Jerusalem (“Repent! The end is coming!”)—Jesus is now healing at his own peril. Don’t you admire His courage? They are even now plotting against Him, but He continues to go about doing the will of His Father.

Let’s look again at the Bent-Over Woman: She doesn’t approach Jesus. She’s been miserable and perhaps in pain for a long, long time.

Nevertheless, Jesus calls her forward (Remember, Rabbis typically did not speak to women). But Jesus participated in a theological discussion with the unnamed woman at the well (John 4:1-41); spared the unnamed woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11); and forgave the unnamed woman who washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). I believe these women are un-named because the Lord wants us to identify with them. Jesus correctly recognizes that she is crippled due to demonic activity. He has authority over the demonic, so He touches her and speaks a rhema healing word to set her free. In the original Greek text, this is a play on words: Satan has bound her but Jesus loosed her.

He uses a style of rabbinic argument they would have recognized if you would do this for your animals (the lesser) than why not for a person, a daughter of Abraham (the greater)? They are not logical in their zeal for the letter of the Law. They have let their focus on upholding the Law obscure their love for a neighbor. They have let their jealousy and envy of Jesus’ power blind them to the spirit of the Law. They seemed to have missed that God, the Lord of the Sabbath, sometimes works on the Sabbath.

People can still be bent over today due to disease, right? But what else keeps people bound? Habitual sins like alcoholism; drug-addiction; pornography and sex addiction; and choosing the pursuit of money, power, fame, etc, over pursuing God.

What is our response to them supposed to be? Respond with the compassion of Christ. Like the former mayor of NYC, we can keep the law but also exhibit compassion. Like Jesus, who created the Law, we may break a rule to mend a broken life. This week, look for any opportunities God sets before you to demonstrate compassion. Take the risk of being rejected or of looking foolish. You may be used by God to utter healing words. You may be used by God to demonstrate love to the unloved or unlovely (what Jesus called …the least of these). By doing so, you might just save someone’s eternal life.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Good Friday Message

Pastor Sherry’s message for April 15, 2022.

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

Our Scripture passages today are all very solemn, fitting this day we remember the death of our Lord, Jesus Christ, on the Cross. The Passion narrative according to John takes us through Jesus’s “kangaroo trials” to His crucifixion.

First, He is arrested. He had made Himself disappear suddenly, in the past, when He did not intend to be captured. In Nazareth, after He had read the passage from Isaiah (61:1-2) that contains the job description of the Messiah and said Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, His hometown friends tried to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:29-30). However, He walked through the midst of them and vanished. This time, though, He chose to remain and to face what was coming.

Did you notice that those who came to arrest Him fell back when He identified Himself as Jesus of Nazareth (v.6)? He seemed firmly in control as He calmly surrendered. They had sent a group of some 500 men to capture Him, armed with clubs and weapons, but He wouldn’t allow a fight to ensue. He tells them to let His disciples go. Luke tells us He even healed Malchus’ ear after Peter had cut it off (Luke 22:50-51). This should have made some impression on those who came to arrest Him. Surely they might have wondered if He were not someone special.

From the garden, they take him to the palace of Annas, the former high priest. Out of favor with the Romans, Annas was still the religious power broker of Jerusalem. Biblical scholars say he was both brilliant and satanic. Many credit him with this plan to eliminate Jesus; they had just awaited the “right time” and a Judas to appear. So they arrest Him under the cover of night, when all those who loved and believed in Jesus would be at home.

Jesus challenges Anna’s court honestly, confronting the guy who hit Him (v.23) If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike Me? Jesus, again calmly but firmly, reminds them they are out of line: by Jewish law,

1.) No court trial could begin at night/be held at night;

2.) No one could strike a person on trial without a verdict;

3.) Furthermore, Jewish Law prohibited sentencing a man on the day he was brought to trial.

But this trial at Annas’s was a mockery of justice.

Annas then sends Him to Caiaphas, the Roman’s choice for “high priest,” as well as Annas’s son-in-law (a 1st century example of nepotism). John reminds us that earlier (John 11:50), Caiaphas had said to the Sanhedrin You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish. Caiaphas did not realize at the time that he was speaking prophetically. Nevertheless, Jesus knows He is laying down His life for the sins of Israel and for us. Caiaphas and Annas both find Jesus guilty of blasphemy, because He admitted He is the Son of God. He–the Way, the Truth, and the Life– is accused of lying even though He told the truth. How ironic! They would have liked to have stoned Jesus, but the Romans forbade any nation to invoke capital punishment but them.

So Jesus is next sent to the Roman, Pontius Pilate. Pilate tries every which way to free Jesus. He knows the Jewish religious hierarchy is just jealous of Him. Even though Pilate believes Jesus is innocent, he still has Him scourged (39 lashes with a whip), hoping this will satisfy them. He offers to set Jesus free due to the Passover Holiday. He can find nothing wrong with Jesus, but hands Him over to be crucified when the Jews threaten to tell Caesar that Pilate has released a man claiming to be king of the Jews.

And so, trading the sinless Son of God for a murderous insurrectionist, the Jewish leadership have their way and Jesus is crucified. Ironically, the sign on His cross identifies Him as King of the Jews: It is written…

1.) In Hebrew—the language of religion;

2.) ,In Greek—the language of culture and education;

3.) And in Latin—the language of law and order in the Roman world.

The Jews want it adjusted, but Pilate will not bend.

Notice that John does not tell us much about the crucifixion. None of the Gospel writers do. They highlight Jesus’ dignity. They did not want us to focus on Christ’s agony. In fact, the Bible commentator J. Vernon McGee says the Father deliberately made darkness come over the land from noon until 3:00pm so watchers could not see Jesus’ intense suffering as He took on all the sin of the world, past, present, and future; and as the Father turned His back on Him. We are told that soldiers gamble over who will get His clothes. John then relates three of the 7 statements Jesus makes as He is dying:

1.) He asks John to care for His mother, Mary;

2.) He says He is thirsty;

3.) And, lastly, He asserts, It is finished [meaning the work of salvation He was sent to do]. Finally, we learn He was taken down and buried just before the Sabbath began at sundown.

To get a sense of what the crucifixion was like for Jesus, we have to turn to Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the 4th and final Suffering Servant Song, a Messianic Prophecy, often referred to as the Gospel in the Old Testament. Isaiah tells us Jesus will be raised high, lifted up (on the Cross) but also highly exalted (when it is all over). No one would think so as they observed Him carrying His Cross. He will in fact startle or surprise the whole world—even render them speechless—because it will be through the loss of all things that He gains all things.

Seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah accurately predicts the kind of death Jesus will endure. An ordinary man to begin with—not a Rock Star–He will be (v.3) despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering…; beaten beyond recognition; pieced, crushed, oppressed, afflicted; killed in the worst possible way–like a common criminal–hung between true felons; he will die childless—“cut off,” to the Hebrews, evidence of a tragic, futile existence. People will think He got what He deserved, but He didn’t…verses 4-5 Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows….the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. In verse 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.

The Father will richly reward Him (verse 11) After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life [resurrection], and be satisfied…Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong.

God intends to reward Him as though He were a king sharing in the spoils of a great victory, because He went willingly to death, and because He interceded for our sins.

Psalm 22 reveals to us Christ’s thoughts on the cross: He feels forsaken by His Father: The Father was with Him when He was arrested. The Father was with Him during His ludicrous trials. The Father was with Him when He was beaten. The Father was with Him when He was nailed to the Cross. But the Father turned His back on Him when He became sin for us, from noon until 3:00pm.

He admits to feeling like a worm. The word for worm in the Hebrew is the Coccus worm, which emitted a substance used to make red dye. This is symbolic of Jesus’ blood poured out for us. From the Cross He feels surrounded by His enemies: The soldiers are many bulls…the strong bulls of Bashon. His tormentors from the foot of the Cross—scribes, Pharisees, the hostile mob—resemble (v.13) roaring lions tearing their prey; and verse 16 dogs have surrounded Me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. Nevertheless, He trusts in the love of His Father.

Biblical Scholars tell us Jesus fulfilled 28 prophecies of the Messiah from the Cross. We can recognize them in our Psalm and Isaiah passages. The sinless Son of God laid down His life for us, paying the penalty for our sins; reconciling us to God the Father; and clothing us in His righteousness. These Sacred writings prove to us that Jesus—and only Jesus—was and is the Messiah, the Son of God. Let us ponder His sacrifice and offer Him our gratitude and love.

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Grown-ups or Parents?

Pastor Sherry’s message for 3/27/2022,

Scriptures: Jos 5:9-12 ; Ps 32; 2 Cor 5:16-2; Lk 15:1-32

A 5 year old girl asks her mother, “Is God a grown-up or a parent?”

The mother wants to be sure she understands where the child is coming from, so she asks, “What’s the difference between a grown-up and a parent?” The child says, “Grown-ups love you when you are good, but parents love you anyway.” So, based on the child’s understanding, God is… a parent.

In our Gospel this morning, the Scribes and the Pharisees are grown-ups, aren’t they? They are the guardians of the do’s and the don’ts. They are the arbiters of good and bad behaviors. So, they separate themselves out from tax collectors, who they see as sell-outs to their Roman oppressors. The Romans had these folks gather taxes for Rome, and then slowed them to add whatever they wanted for themselves. The Jews knew Rome had thus unleashed foxes into the proverbial hen house, and resented it mightily. They also viewed tax collectors as collaborators with pagans. Pharisees and Scribes also avoided contact with sinners, fearing contamination. Now it is human nature, isn’t it, for us to try to figure out who’s in and who’s out; who’s “hot” and who’s not; or who’s “cool” and who’s a fool. So we can cut them some grace for just being people. But isn’t it true that we in the Church, if we are not careful, can also become grown-ups? Like the Scribes and Pharisees, we too often judge others and decide they come up short. These fellows are judging Jesus and are seriously questioning His “Good Person credentials.” (They are judging God. YIKES!)

Now I am going to depart from my usual practice of trying to explain what God is wooing or challenging us to do in each passage assigned for today. Instead, I want to focus on what Jesus, knowing their “grown-up hearts” is telling the Scribes and Pharisees-–and us–in 3 parables Luke groups together as stories regarding “the lost.”

It is no accident that the “God-figures”—the people who act like God– in these first two are low status folks: In the 1st parable, the religious elite would distain shepherds because they lived a nomadic, outdoor life (didn’t attend Synagogue regularly). And, often lacking water, or having to bandage up injured, bloody sheep, they were unable to keep the purity laws. In the 2nd, no self-respecting rabbi or Pharisee would either see or speak to a woman. That’s why Jesus talking with the woman of the well (John 4:1-42) was so radical. The disciples were speechless when they found Him alone with her; not only that, but the two were discussing serious theological issues. Women of that day were not allowed to go to rabbinical school, or to study Torah. Ben Sirach, a noted teacher of the time, wrote the birth of a daughter is a loss. Jewish men of Jesus’ time often thanked God each day that they had not been born a woman. This is also why Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50), was so put out that Jesus would allow a woman to touch Him (she washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair). Women in that day did not touch rabbis, and women of low reputation certainly did not dare.

The son in the 3rd parable had high status until he severely disrespected his father. He asked for his inheritance. Then as now, sons only inherited at the death of their father. Asking so early was tantamount to saying, “Father, I wish you were dead!” Fathers in the Ancient Near East had life/death control over their children. The younger son is the lowest status member of this family; thus, his request would have been viewed as especially despicable and selfish. Friends, neighbors, and relatives–had they known–would have expected the father to drive this greedy son away with yelling and with blows. They would have further expected the father to banish him from the family forever.

Given this cultural understanding, let’s look 1st at the Parable of the Lost Sheep. We are well familiar with this wonderful story, aren’t we? The shepherd, the Good Shepherd, values His one lost sheep enough to spare no effort to locate it. Did you ever wonder who was looking out for the 99? Maybe Jesus just said to them, “stay,” and they did. Or probably some assistant shepherd remained behind to watch over them. We don’t know what He goes through to locate the lost sheep, but only that He rejoices when He finds it. The fabulous point is that God loves us all enough to go to great lengths to find us, and rejoices when He does. Consider John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Through Jesus, God saved all. Not all appreciate this, so not all will claim their salvation by saying “yes” to Christ. Paul writes in 1 Tim 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…. John insists similarly in 1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as He [Jesus] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.

The truth is that our chief, most important identity is not our gender, race, nationality, credentials, or our status. It is that we are loved by God. If we have accepted Jesus, we are each children of God the Father and inheritors of His Kingdom through Christ Jesus. We are sinners redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ. Like St. Paul, we realize that before we ever did anything to merit God’s attention, regard, or affection, He loved us and desired intimate relationship with each of us. Our God is a loving parent, rather than a disapproving grown-up. So Jesus is saying to the Scribes and the Pharisees in this 1st parable, you should be like this Shepherd.

In the Parable of the Lost Coin, we find a female image to balance the (predominantly male) shepherd image, which is something St. Luke often tries to do (because Jesus did it). This good wife is perhaps searching for part of her dowry. The coin may have been set in a ring or an earring, or it may have belonged to a strand of coins worn across the forehead. The coin probably had high sentimental value to her. It may have been to her like losing the stone out of an engagement ring would feel to one of us. Or, alternatively, it might have been money given to her by her husband to buy necessities for their home. Those 10 coins probably represented 10 days’ income. She may have worried that losing it would demonstrate to her husband that she could not be trusted to be a good steward of their money. Whether dowry or income, she felt she needed to locate that missing coin.

Notice the lengths she goes to in order to locate the coin: She lights a lamp to see better. She sweeps what would have been a hard-packed dirt floor thoroughly. Like the Shepherd, she searches diligently. Consider, the sheep may have been found wounded or damaged somehow, but lost or found, the value of the coin is unaffected. Some of us may have believed we were without value before Christ came into our lives. That was me before God rescued me. My step-father never told me he loved me and my mother did not like women. YIKES! But when I learned my Heavenly Father loved me, I realized it almost didn’t matter that my earthly grown-ups (parental figures) did not. Or perhaps you feared that you had done so many bad things in your life so as to lessen your value to God. I have heard folks say they won’t come to church because they are such sinners that the roof of the building would fall in if they showed up. But this lost coin parable affirms that despite having been sinners in the past, Jesus Christ still values us. The roof would not cave in! As with the sheep, the search is on, the lost is found, and the woman rejoices.

This time, Jesus identifies with the woman. He is saying, I am like this woman. I diligently search for the lost. What about you, Scribes and Pharisees? And, as one of my seminary professors (Dr. Kenneth Bailey) said, in this parable and elsewhere in Luke, Jesus elevates the worth of women.

Now we come to the famous Parable of the Lost, or Prodigal Son. Let’s focus first on the Father’s Behaviors: Very unexpectedly (for the Ancient Near East), he offers grace to His greedy younger son. He doesn’t seem to take offense. Despite any pain over his son’s attitudes, he grants the request. He gives his son the freedom to leave town with his “inheritance check.” It’s helpful to know that this would diminish what the father and the elder son have left to live on. It’s also helpful to know that once word of this got around the village, the villagers would have wanted the son’s head (vigilante justice)! Remember the outcry against Queen Vasti, in the book of Esther? She refused to come when the King summoned her to his banquet. Even though the banqueters were all men, and even though they were probably all drunk and unpredictable after days of feasting and drinking, Vasti’s refusal shamed the king before his subjects. The other nobles pressured the King to “de-queen” her because they feared her “disrespect” would be a bad example to other married women in the empire. If they had known, the villagers may have feared a similar contagion effect. Already we notice this Father is more magnanimous than anyone then would have expected a Father to be. Jesus’ listeners would no doubt have been shocked.

Now let’s consider the Son’s Behaviors: He runs through his father’s money. He’s reduced to starvation. In desperation, he develops a plan return home and throw himself on his dad’s mercy.

Let’s shift back again to the Father’s Response: He watches for his son! He knows his son and probably suspects he’ll have spent it all. He wants to see him again, but also to reach the young man before the villagers get ahold of him. He runs to meet him! This would have totally shocked the Pharisees. Ancient Near Eastern patriarchs did not run! They moved at a slow and stately pace as befit their status. In addition, any exposure of the Father’s legs while running would have been considered shameful. The father deliberately risks ridicule and humiliation to reach his son.

When he reaches his lost son, he embraces and kisses him. Village observers would have expected the son to fall on his face and kiss his father’s feet.

But sonny-boy barely starts his apology when the father offers, “a costly demonstration of his unexpected love” (Do you hear a whisper, an intimation of the Cross?) Through His saving, redeeming love, the Father receives his lost son (us) back into the family. He honors him with the best robe, signifying cleansing and honor; he provides him a signet ring, indicating trust; he sees to covering his bare feet with shoes, a symbol of self-respect. Then he throws a celebratory party! The Father is delighted that his son has returned home. But, as Dr. Bailey taught, “The banquet is a celebration of joy in honor of the Father and his life-saving, costly love. (See Finding the Lost, by Kenneth E. Bailey, Condordia Press, 1992).

What then is Jesus saying, through these three parables of lost things, to His audience of Pharisees and to us? He is saying, (1.) “I hang out with sinners because I came to seek and to save the lost.” (2.) He says to the Scribes and the Pharisees, “So should you.” (3.) To us, “Even though we may believe God has given up on us He hasn’t. He simply waits for us to come to our senses, and realize we need Him.”

He is also telling us that our God is a loving and forgiving parent. His love for us is extravagant, generous, without compare. And He stands ready to forgive us and draw us to Himself if we but ask. May we always appreciate His life-saving, parental love!

©2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

The Trouble With Forgiveness

Pastor Sherry’s message for 2/20/22

Scriptures: Gen 45:3-15; Ps 37:1-11, 39-40; Lk 6:27-38

Corrie ten Boom was a Holocaust survivor, a Christian, and a member of the Dutch underground resistance during WWII. Scott Sauls (in his book, A Gentle Answer, Thomas Nelson, 2020, pp.19-20) tells the following story to demonstrate the trouble with forgiveness:

“After the defeat of Hitler’s Nazi regime in World War II, Corrie returned to Germany to declare the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. One evening, after giving her message, she was approached by a man who identified himself as a former Nazi guard from the concentration camp at Ravensbruck, where she had been held and where her sister, Betsie, had died.

“When Corrie saw the man’s face, she recognized him as one of the most cruel and vindictive guards from the camp. He reached out his hand and said to her, “A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea! You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk. I was a guard there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?” About this encounter, Corrie writes:

‘I stood there—I whose sins had again and again been forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place. Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I ever had to do . . . I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. . . . But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently.’

“As she reached out her hand to the former guard, Corrie says that something incredible took place. She continues: ‘The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’ . . . I had never known love so intensely, as I did then. But even then, I realized it was not my love . . . It was the power of the Holy Spirit.’”

The trouble with forgiveness is that it is easy to talk about but difficult to do. It feels at the time like the emotional equivalent of having your toe-mails curled backwards.

Remember the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons by Bill Watterson? In one of them, Calvin—about 6YO–is sharing his guilt with his tiger friend, Hobbes. He admits he feels bad for calling someone named Susie names and for hurting her feelings. He says he is sorry. (Good for him!) Hobbes, a wise toy tiger, suggests Calvin apologize to Susie. After thinking it through for a moment, Calvin replies, “I keep hoping there’s a less obvious solution.” Isn’t that just the truth for most of us? We know that apologizing or asking for forgiveness is going to require that we humble ourselves and admit our fault. We also suspect that this action will be emotionally painful for us.

Jesus gives us His take on forgiveness in this famous portion of the Gospel of Luke (6:27-38). It is a continuation of the Sermon on the Plain. Jesus directs us to (v.27)love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. YIKES! This is such a tall order! Foundational to the ability to do as He directs is a willingness to forgive. Corrie ten Boom found it very difficult to extend a hand of forgiveness to the former Ravensbruck guard.

She knew she had just talked about it publically, and hated to be seen as a hypocrite—if she could not. And she wisely asked Jesus to help her. Such forgiveness is beyond our human abilities. It requires the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Additionally, in verse 29, Jesus commands us to famously “turn the other cheek.” Rev. Dr. J. Vernon McGee tells the story of an Irish prize fighter who was converted and became an itinerent pastor. “He happened to be in a new town setting up his evangelistic tent when a couple of tough thugs noticed what he was doing. Knowing nothing of his background, they made a few insulting remarks. The Irishman merely turned and looked at them. Pressing his luck, one of the bullies took a swing and struck a glancing blow on one side of the ex-boxer’s face. The former boxer shook it off and said nothing as he stuck out his jaw. The bully took another glancing blow on the other side. At that point the preacher swiftly took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and announced, “The Lord gave me no further instructions,” Whop! ( As related by J. Vernon McGee in Charles Swindoll’s Tale of a Tardy Oxcart, 1998, p 214.)

Clearly this is a joke as Jesus told Peter the trouble with forgiveness is that we are to forgive the same person not 7 but 77 times (Matthew 18:22). Jesus sums it up by charging us to (v.31)Do to others as you would have them do to you. We are not to seek revenge or repay evil with evil. Instead, we are called to treat everyone– even enemies– with love and mercy.

Furthermore, He exhorts us (vv.37-38)Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For, with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

The story is told of the famous artist, Leonardo Da Vinci. He was painting “The Last Supper,” (in oils on a plaster wall in a convent in Milan, Italy) and had fashioned the face of Judas at the table to resemble one of his greatest detractors. Then, when he approached painting the face of Christ, he found he could not get it right. He tried and tried unsuccessfully, until he repented of how he had depicted the Judas figure. As soon as he painted over his enemy’s likeness with one more anonymous, he found he could then depict Jesus’ face.

Notice how God withheld blessing Da Vinci’s great work until the artist let go of avenging himself. The trouble with un-forgiveness is that it blocks our ability to receive God’s blessings. The “Cancel Culture” today tells us it is OK and even expected of us to get revenge. But according to Christ, we are blessed in the measure to which we bless others.

Jesus’ admonitions to forgive, not judge, and not condemn are so beautifully lived out by Old Testament Joseph (Genesis 45:3-15). Joseph is probably the most Christ-like person described in the Old Testament. Recall that his 10 brothers from another mother had sold him into slavery (he was about 17). They fully expected him to die in Egypt, as slaves were not treated well. They compounded their sin by lying to their father about Joseph’s supposed death, and causing him great grief. His grief was so profound and so agonizing that his brother Judah ended up leaving the family camp to live among Canaanites for a time.

But because of Joseph’s supernatural skill as a “seer,” he was rescued from prison by Pharaoh to interpret (see the meaning of) his ominous and perplexing dreams (by this point Joseph was 30YO). Previously, he had been able to see into the motives of his brothers, which got him sold into slavery. He had also correctly read the motives of Potipher’s wife, but received a prison sentence anyway. And, finally, his ability to see into the future of his prison roommate’s life had brought him to the attention of Pharaoh.

Now, with his brothers gathered around him in all his splendor (aged 39, having lived in Egypt for 22 years), as Vizier of Egypt, he sees as well as discerns and reveals God’s purposes in what his brothers had done to him. Prior to this passage, he has tested his felonious brothers twice to see if their character has changed at all in the 22 years since he last saw them.

It appears they have come to regret their past actions toward him, as well as the inconsolable grief they have caused their father, Jacob.

So, as per Peterson’s The Message, he tells his kin–>I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt. But don’t feel badly, don’t blame yourselves for selling me. God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives. There has been a famine in the land now for two years; the famine will continue for five more years—neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me on ahead to pave the way and make sure there was a remnant in the land, to save your lives in an amazing act of deliverance. So you see, it wasn’t you who sent me here but God. He set me in place as a father to Pharaoh, put me in charge of his personal affairs, and made me ruler of all Egypt.

The trouble with forgiveness is that it is difficult for us to offer. Our sinful human nature wants us to pursue revenge. But God will bless our efforts to forgive others. Joseph’s forgiveness results in a Jew, rising to the #2 power position in all of Egypt. It fulfills the prophetic dreams he had had as a young man. In addition, God uses Joseph to save his Father, all 11 of his brothers, and his extended family (approximately 90 people in all). He also saved unnumbered thousands of Egyptians and other Gentiles.

Joseph also demonstates the truth of Psalm 37, which is “Do not fret.” No matter what our circumstances, we do not need to worry.

Verse 3 tells us to Trust in the Lord and do good. Verse 4 encourages us to delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. It took 22 years, but Joseph—despite being sold into slavery and falsely accused of rape– does not appear to have lost his trust in God.

He did not get angry with God, he forgave his brothers, and God delivered him.

I think that examples like that of Old Testament Joseph and of Corrie ten Boom validate for us that it is possible for us to forgive others and to extend love to our enemies. Even though difficult for us, we can do it with God’s help.

We want to forgive because…

1. Christ commands it of us.

2. Christ demonstrated it to us, by forgiving us through His saving death on the Cross.

Stuart Strachan Jr. relates a tale written by Ernest Hemingway in this way: “The story revolves around a father and his teenage son Paco, set in Spain. Paco was an extremely common name in the Spain of that time. With desires to become a matador and to escape his father’s control, Paco runs away to the capital (from which the title is derived) of Spain, Madrid.

His father, desperate to reconcile with his son, follows him to Madrid and puts an ad in a local newspaper with a simple phrase: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the Madrid newspaper office tomorrow at noon. All is forgiven. I love you.” Hemingway then writes, “the next day at noon in front of the newspaper office there were 800 “Pacos” all seeking forgiveness.” The world is full of people in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. The model for such forgiveness is most profoundly found in Jesus Christ.”

3. And because God gives back to us as good as we give.

This week, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to bring to our minds those people we need to forgive. Then let us go before the throne of God and offer up our desire, our intent to forgive them. God can work with the fact that we may only want to want to forgive. Pray for those persons daily for 30 days and watch and see what our Lord does to them and to us.

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Claimed!

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 9, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 43:1-7; Ps 29; Acts 8:14-17; Lk 3:15-22

I told this story a few years back, but I believe it bears retelling: A young woman was applying to college. She was uncomfortable with the question on the admission form, Are you a leader? She figured colleges were looking for leaders, but she was also pretty clear that she wasn’t one. She filled the form in honestly by answering the question with a “No.” As a result, she expected to be rejected. What a surprise when she got back this response: Dear Applicant, a careful review of this year’s application forms reveals that we will be accepting 1,452 new leaders. We are also accepting you because we feel it is important that these 1,452 have at least one follower.

In our Gospel today (LK 3:15-17, 21-22), John the Baptist makes it clear that he is not the leader—the Promised Messiah—but rather His devoted follower. John, Jesus‘ cousin, is baptizing Israelites in the Jordan. Now we know that baptism is a sacrament, an outward, visible sign of an important, inward, spiritual truth. By being dunked (or sprinkled like we do), the people were indicating their intention to die to their sins. Going under the water indicated symbolically their decision to turn away from or die to their sins. Coming up out of the water symbolized their decision to commit their lives to God. In other words, John was preaching a revival and encouraging everyone who heard him to be baptized—both as a sign of their repentance (sorrow for sin) and of their desire to live a changed life.

Apparently, he preaches so effectively and so convincingly that the crowd began to wonder aloud if he could be the coming Messiah. He heard their murmurings and replied, “No, no no…not me! I’m just the warm-up act. I’m baptizing you with water…but Someone mightier is coming after me Who…” (according to Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message)…will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He is going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper perspective before God; everything false He’ll put out with the trash to be burned. John the Baptist is saying, “I’m not the Messiah, but only the prelude to what Jesus will accomplish in the lives of those willing to believe in Him.”

The difference between Jesus’ and John the Baptist’s baptisms is this: John’s baptism was about jettisoning the old life. In the movie, O Brother, where art thou?, the fugitive convict, Delmar, gets baptized in a river. Returning to his other 2 convict buddies, he is filled with joy! He exclaims, “I have been redeemed. The preacher said so. All my sins and wrongdoings has been wiped away, including robbing that Piggly-Wiggly.” Another convict pipes up, “Uh, Delmar, I thought you said you was innocent of those charges.” Delmar replies, “Well, I lied, but I been forgiven of that too.”

As far as we know, Jesus never baptized anyone with water. Instead, He imparted to them the Holy Spirit. He gave them/us the supernatural power to live a new life. Again, John’s baptism jettisoned the old life; Jesus’ baptism in the Holy Spirit empowers us to live a new one–a life in which we love and serve God and others.

Now Luke is not telling this story chronologically, because after he tells us that King Herod had John the Baptist arrested, Jesus comes on the scene to be baptized. Regardless of the order of events, Jesus was without sin, so what did He have to die to in baptism? What old life was He getting rid of? Matthew’s Gospel tells us He submitted to John’s water baptism to fulfill all righteousness (3:15); that is, to identify with our sinful natures; and to model for all the way we should turn to God. Notice that while He was being baptized by John, the rest of the Trinity showed up as well: The Holy Spirit took on the form of the white dove and hovered over His head, indicating that Jesus was now empowered for ministry. Some apocryphal gospels (not considered accurate enough to have been included in the “canon” of Scripture) describe Jesus healing birds and transforming things into butterflies as a child. This cannot be as He had not yet been baptized in the Spirit. When the dove descended upon Him, the God-man Jesus was then plugged into His supernatural power source. Additionally, the Father’s voice (which we have been told in Ps 29 is exceedingly powerful) pronounced: You are my Son whom I love; with You I am well pleased!

Wow, just before He begins His ministry of saving humankind, Jesus heard a powerful affirmation from His Father! He receives this wonderful blessing, His Father’s statement that He was not just pleased with Him, but well pleased.

Wouldn’t you have loved to have heard that from your earthly father? My step-father never even told me he loved me, but my Heavenly Father has. Modern psychology tells us that it is the father in the family—not the mother–who conveys to children their self-esteem. Isn’t it true that we all need our Father’s blessing to feel confident and good about ourselves? One of my seminary professors, Rev. Dr. John Rogers, conveyed the Father’s blessing to me every time I saw him after graduating. We would occasionally see one another at a clergy conference. He would come up to me, cup my face in his large hands, and kiss me on the forehead. I believed then and still do that the Lord used him to let me know He loved and approved of me. I pray you have had someone similar to do the same in your life!

Our Acts lesson (8:14-17) describes a situation in which a deacon, Philip, has baptized new Samaritan converts with water, and the Apostles Peter and John show up to baptize them with the Holy Spirit. You may recall (from Acts 7) that a deacon, named Stephen, was stoned to death in Jerusalem, with Saul (soon to become Paul) presiding over his execution.

This begins the first persecution of the early Church, with Jews beating, imprisoning, and killing Christ-followers. Why would God allow this to happen in His enfant church? He allowed it to prompt them to leave their Holy Huddle in Jerusalem and to take the Gospel—as Jesus commanded them (Acts 1:8)–to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

So Philip, a 2nd deacon, goes to a city in Samaria. We are told, in verses 5-8, that he preached the Word, performed miracles, healed the sick, and cast out demons there—what a powerful ministry! And…there was great joy in that city! Later, the apostles Peter and John are sent to check into this “city-wide-revival.” They approved Philip’s work, then went on to baptize the people with the Holy Spirit. Why follow up water-baptism with a baptism in the Holy Spirit? Remember, John the Baptist baptized with water, representing repentance for and cleansing from sin; representing a turning away from the pre-baptism life. Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit.

In our modern service of baptism, while sprinkling water on head of the person being baptized , we baptize him/her in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Immediately after this, I make the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead (with oil that has been blessed) and say, “_______, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and claimed as Christ’s own forever.” To be baptized by the Holy Spirit is like having the dove descend upon us as happened with Jesus. It means we have been claimed and adopted, by God–through the saving work of Jesus–as His beloved daughters and sons. It also means we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to reach out to others and to minister to them in Christ’s love.

So, all of us in this congregation have been baptized by both water and by the Holy Spirit (If you doubt this, please remain after church and I will pray with you to receive the Holy Spirit). Let us remember verse 1 from Isaiah 43–Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; You are mine! We have been claimed by God, through Jesus, and are now commissioned and empowered for ministry. This new year, let’s look for opportunities to tell others about Jesus and His impact on our lives. Let’s be like the fellow in the story of a father and son who “…arrived in a small western town looking for an uncle whom they had never seen. Suddenly, the father, pointing across the square to a man who was walking away from them, exclaimed, “There goes my uncle!” His son asked, “How do you know when you have not seen him before?” “Son, I know him because he walks exactly like my father.” If we walk in the Spirit, the world should know us by our walk (Related by Lee Roberson in, The Gold Mine , 2000, Sword of the Spirit Publishers). Amen. May it be so!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Edifying Speech

Scriptures: Prov 1:20-33l Ps 19; Jas 3:1-12; Mk 8:27-38

Pastor Sherry’s message for 9/12/2021

A wife at a party was overheard saying the following (As reported by Karen Ehman, Keep It Shut, 2015, p. 45, published by Zondervan):

My husband says my ability to talk is what first attracted him to me. He loved how I could work a room, making the shy ones feel included. I could converse with the college president and yuck it up with the grocery store bag boy all in the same afternoon. Yep. My college sweetheart loved how I could talk. So this rather shy guy bought a ring, slipped it on my finger, grabbed my hand, and off we proceeded down the church aisle and into marital bliss.

My proficiency at all things linguistic hadn’t bothered him before. In fact, he had felt it was an asset. I talked and talked. He smiled and listened. And it really didn’t seem to bother him. Then, about three days into our honeymoon, he had this thought: “When is she ever gonna shut up?” In fact, if I make it to heaven before he does, he’s decided just what should go on my tombstone: A period. Ask him why, and he’ll declare, “Well, she’ll finally be done yacking!” (He insists my language has no periods — just commas, colons, and semicolons — because there’s always more to come!)

Isn’t it interesting how the trait we most appreciated about our spouse, before we married, becomes the one that most drives us nuts after we say, “I do.”?

Be that as it may, have you noticed that our lessons lately have had a very practical bent?

1. 5 weeks ago, just as school was starting, they had to do with acquiring spiritual wisdom.

2. 4 weeks ago, St. Paul schooled us in the wisdom of realizing we are in a spiritual battle that requires us to put on spiritual armor and to take up our spiritual weapons: prayer and Scripture.

3. Next we examined the need for us to persevere in the faith so carefully handed down to us by generations of Christ-followers/true believers.

4. And last week, we acknowledged the source of our real security, the Lord.

5. This week, our Scriptures are speaking loudly to us about the wisdom involved in watching our tongues.

The wife in my illustration seems oblivious to the fact that it is possible to talk too much. I have known people like that, haven’t you? They hardly take a breath and leave no space for you to responds. Yet, even if you and I don’t talk too much, we can and do err by sometimes saying the wrong thing.

Let’s look at how our Bible passages today address issues of speech:

A. Proverbs 1:20-33 warns us against rejecting wisdom. The choice these verses set out for us is one we’ve seen before: will we seek wisdom or folly? My son had an older, single roommate once who declared he’d had it with dating and that dating was “foolishness, just a bunch of foolishness.”

While you and I may disagree with his conclusion about dating, we can certainly sympathize with his frustration. But the point is that we can often recognize foolish behavior when we see it in others or when we are guilty of it ourselves. In these proverbs, wisdom is personified, viewed as a person, not just a concept.

In verse 22, she mocks those who persist in foolishness: How long will you simple ones [The Hebrew here is “simpletons”] love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? YIKES! This is a flat out condemnation of foolishness.

We have noted the boomerang effect a number of times in Scripture (we reap what we sow). In verse 25, the consequences of choosing to be foolish are dire—[Wisdom is saying,]—since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you…. In other words, we are free to choose to act foolishly, but there is a price to pay, verse 31–they [the foolish] will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. But if we choose wisdom, verse 33–…whoever listens to me [the voice of wisdom] will live in safety and be at ease without fear of harm.

So what does this have to do with our talk? It implies, by extension, that we need to be wise about what we choose to say. Someone has claimed that trying to take back something unwise we once said is like trying to put feathers back on a plucked bird, or toothpaste back into the tube. Once we’ve spoken something, we can’t take it back. The cancel-culture has been nailing people for things they said way back in their past, assuming they never changed in the intervening years. Thank God our God is willing to forgive us—if we ask Him– for things we said in the past that were less than wise.

B. Psalm 19 outlines three reasons we should revere God:

1. He is Elohim, the Mighty Ones who planned and brought into being all of creation (Notice the plural, Trinitarian reference). Verse 1 reminds us so beautifully—The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. God formed and fashioned the stars, the moon, and the sun. Daily they provide evidence that God exists. The wise person realizes this while the fool denies it.

2. Secondly, Jehovah, our Rock and our Redeemer, gave us His commandments, to guide us in the wise way to live. While we often end up breaking them and needing His forgiveness, nevertheless God’s Law convicts us of sin, and it is trustworthy and unchanging, true, uplifting, cleansing, and right.

3. Third, we should worship and praise God because of Jesus’ redeeming work on our behalf.

When we consider the words that come out of our mouths, we need to bear in mind that God hears it all, from all of us. Is what we say godly? Is it edifying? Is it uplifting?

C. In James 3:1-12, Jesus’ brother really takes us to task about what comes out of our mouths. First he uses several metaphors to explain how something so small—our tongue—can and does have such a huge effect:

Our tongue is like the bit on a horse, a small appliance of metal that controls a thousand pound animal. Or it’s like the relatively small rudder of a ship that directs the huge vessel.

Then he goes on to state that our tongues can have the destructive power of a forest fire. Verses 7-8–All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. Wow, James, how do you really feel about our tongues?

He sounds overcome and defeated, doesn’t he? Even so, it is as though he has circled back to our Proverbs today: We have a choice between wisdom and folly. We have the capability to praise God or to curse folks made in His image. But we really shouldn’t allow two such opposite sentiments to come out of our mouths. Foolish, destructive speech is critical, condemning, and gossipy. My kids once asked why a relative of theirs was so negative about others all the time. Trying to be truthful without condemnation, I told them that some folks believe the only way to rise up in this world is by stepping on the reputations of others. By contrast, speech that pleases God is uplifting, true, and edifying.

D. Finally, Jesus, in our Gospel lesson (Mark 8:27-38), both praises and rebukes Peter for what he says. First He praises Peter because, as spokesman for the 12, he states that Jesus is the Messiah, (in the Greek, this is His title, the Christ). They are now trekking up to Caesarea Philippi, North of Galilee (present day Jordan). It is about 6 months before His crucifixion. Perhaps as they are walking along, Jesus wants to know who they have come to believe He is. But when He goes on to state what will happen to Him as Messiah, Peter rebukes Him—No, no, that cannot be! Peter has just proclaimed Jesus is God; but when he hears Jesus say something he cannot abide, Peter tries to change God’s mind. How absurd! As if a person can tell God what He can and cannot do. If we could, then we would be God instead of God. However, Jesus recognizes that Peter’s words are actually inspired by the willfulness of the evil one. Remember, Satan majors in rebellion against the plans and the will of God. Just as the evil one can and did manipulate Peter—a man who spent 3 years with Jesus—so too can he tempt us to say things we later regret.

This week, let’s try to follow the example of Johnathan Edwards, the colonial preacher and theologian from the 1700’s who wrote several resolutions for himself. We tend to remember only his sermon entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” We often forget that his church youth group inspired the first great revival in America and that he was noted for his sincerity and his passion that people would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. Apparently, he once wrote out a number of resolutions for himself concerning his speech:

31. Resolved, Never to say anything at all against any body, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against any one, to bring it to, and try it strictly by, the test of this Resolution.

34. Resolved, In narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity [truth].

36. Resolved, Never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call to it.

70. Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak.

This week, and always, let’s be conscious of what we say to and about others. Remember, God is listening. Kids are listening.

Non-believers are listening. As a contemporary sign I once saw in Hobby Lobby says, “Grace and mercy spoken here.” Amen! May that be our goal!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Nursing Grudges

Pastor Sherry’s message for August/8/2021,

 Scriptures: 2 Sam 18:1-33; Ps 130; Eph 4:25-5:2; Jn 6:35, 41-51

    When I studied the readings for this Sunday, I realized pretty quickly that our Lord was speaking to me.  As a friend of mine from Tallahassee would say, “He had His thumb on my spine!”  You know that happens to us when we hear the Scripture passages read on Sunday, or there is something in the sermon that seems directly meant for me/us.  Back in the mid-80’s, when I was just coming to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it was hard to get myself to church on Sundays.  It was my only morning to sleep in.  But, often, when I would make myself go anyway, there was always something that spoke directly to me.  I realized that Satan tries to keep us from church.  The very time we think we just can’t go is the exact time that God has something special for us to hear or to learn.

    In our Old Testament lesson, 2 Sam 18:5-33, God really spoke to me this week, so I want to spend our time together this morning examining it.  This is one of those passages where the LORD does not sugar-coat the truth.  We see David, a man after God’s own heart, a mighty warrior and a great King, as a very imperfect father.    The context of the reading is Civil War.  Our passage opens with King David telling his army commanders to take it easy with the young man Absalom.  Why? What’s the deal? To find out we have to hit rewind:

    Some years prior, Amnon, the eldest of David’s sons, (born to David’s 3rd wife, Ahimnoan) raped his half-sister, the beautiful Tamar.  David was angry about this, but did not avenge Tamar.  (The patriarch, Jacob/Israel was going to allow the rapist of his daughter to marry her.)  This enraged his sons who then perpetrated vigilante justice toward the guy.  We don’t know why these two fathers did not bring their daughter’s rapists to justice.  Perhaps King David was still feeling guilty about his own sexual immorality with Bathsheba.  Perhaps he thought, “Who am I to punish him for actions I also took?”  Or maybe he realized this is part of the playing out of the consequences of his past sin:  The prophet Nathan had told him—even though God had forgiven him– Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house (2 Samuel 12:10).  Or perhaps David feared taking any punishing action would bring about some sort of bloodshed.  So, even though he could have insisted Amnon marry Tamar, David did not.  This apparent inability of King David to discipline his wayward son incensed Absalom, Tamar’s full brother (both children of David’s 4th wife, Maaca).  Absalom plotted revenge against Amnon—slyly, covertly– for 2 years.  He did not have the teaching of Paul in our Ephesians 4:26-27 lesson to guide him:  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry; and do not give the devil a foothold.  So he invited Amnon, together with his father’s other sons, to a sheep-shearing festival at his country home.  Absalom got Amnon drunk, then had him killed.  Now, just as David had Uriah killed so he could marry the pregnant Bathsheba, David must realize Absalom’s murder of his eldest son mirrors his own homicidal act.

     Knowing he has committed murder, punishable by death, Absalom hits the road and is separated—in exile– from his father for 3 years.  Scripture tells us that, all that time, David longed to see Absalom and mourned his absence (2 Samuel 13).  Curiously, though, he does not send for him.  Absalom is as good as banished.  David has now lost his 2 eldest sons-1 dead, one exiled. 

    in a complicated maneuver, Joab, David’s cousin and general, manipulates David into calling his Absolom home (2 Samuel 14).  David agrees, but does not allow Absalom into his presence.  Another 2 years go by and Absalom grows embarrassed, embittered.  Again, he has a long time to nurse a grudge against his father.   

    Notice that David is uncharacteristically unforgiving!  God has forgiven him of massive sins, but he has taken and nursed an offense toward his son.  The King has to be urged by his cousin to recall Absalom to Jerusalem.  Then, 2 years later, he has to be again urged by his cousin to reconcile with his son.

    So, 5 years after Absalom has killed Amnon (7 years after the rape of Absalom’s sister), David finally summons him.  He greets him with a kiss, but it is too little, too late.  The damage to their relationship has been compounded.  Many cultures in the ancient Near East then, as now, were “Shame-based cultures” (Honor bound).  A son, even a prince, did not shame his father.  By taking a father’s right to discipline Amnon, Absalom has shamed the King.  David had exhibited his corresponding displeasure by not inviting his son back home.  Contrast this with God’s example in the Prodigal Son story.  Privately David loves him and misses him, but publically his pride has taken a hit, and he harbors an offense against Absalom—he nurses a grudge.  He has built up a wall in his heart.  He has emotionally abandoned his son.

    For his part, Absolom is no better.  After having been exiled for 3 years, then waiting on his father to invite him back into his presence another 2, Absalom has grown embittered.  Like Father, like son.  He too has registered a hit to the pride, to the heart.  He too has taken offense and held onto it.  He too has established walls in his heart against his father.  From there, it’s a simple step to betraying his father.

    So Chapter 15 describes how he campaigns—over the next 4 years–to win over his countrymen.  He was exceedingly handsome, and we know from very robust Social Psychology research, that “pretty people” are often thought of more highly than they may actually deserve.  Though he had slain his ½ brother at his own table (a huge violation of ancient Near Eastern hospitality rules), he is now nice as can be to everyone.  It’s a presidential campaign!  He is kissing babies, promising tax cuts, and making promises he has no intention of keeping.  If he had had TV, he would have been giving interviews on cable news, and funding political ads, trying to displace his aging father in the public eye.  Then, before David even suspects what is happening, Absalom launches a coup.  And so we find ourselves in the current chapter:  Civil War, between father and son!

    David, the seasoned warrior, flees the city.  He has his experienced and loyal, professional army with him (like our Navy Seals, Special Forces, or trained military snipers).  They beg David not to go to battle with them due to his age (mid-50’s or 60’s?); they fear that if he were captured, it would mean certain defeat.  So David sees them off and asks them to spare the life of Absalom.

    But Absalom is not a warrior (he is instead a shrewd politico). He takes time to call in Israelite citizens to bear arms in his name.  These may be like our national guard, having some training, but lacking the experience of life-long soldiers.  The armies encounter each other in a large forest—never a good place for a battle.  Trees, hills, cliffs, and lakes appear to have impeded troop movements.  David’s veterans overcome the larger, inexperienced forces.  Absalom may have been trying to retreat, when his marvelous hair entraps him (He was known for his good looks and his long, thick, beautiful hair).  Even though Joab, David’s cousin (Absolom’s 2nd cousin), had been told to capture, not kill the rebel prince, Joab kills him anyway and buries his body in a pit.  Perhaps Joab reasoned that Absalom’s implacable hate would never soften into forgiveness, and that he would always present a threat to David’s throne.  Whatever his reason, he ruthlessly brings a sad chapter to an end:  A second cousin kills a second cousin; the predicted sword has clearly become embedded in David’s house.

    All that is left now is the duty of telling the king.  In an strange little sidebar, two men compete to bring the news.  Oddly, the priest’s son, Ahimaaz—a speedy runner—wants to bring David the bad news.  But cousin Joab insists on sending a foreign slave, a nimble, fleet-footed Ethiopian.  Ahimaaz beats the Cushite to David, but finds he cannot tell the King his son is dead; neither really can the slave.  They both answer the King obliquely, but David guesses the truth.  David is bereft!  Oh my son, Absalom!  My son, my son, Absalom!  Many commentators call this the most moving scene of a father’s grief in all of literature!  David’s heart appears to be broken.  In spite of all that Absalom had done to hurt him, in spite of having to again flee from a rival king set on killing him, David grieves the loss of his son.

    What might God be saying to us today through this ancient account?  

    1.) What do we do when people we care about take offense?  We cannot hang on to offenses, nurse grudges, or harbor hurt feelings.  They expand over time.  As we see in this account, they harden into bitterness.  They shrivel our hearts and separate us from God.  We must recognize and take responsibility for our own sins of pride—who are we to hold onto resentments when Jesus Christ forgave His murderers from the Cross?  We must forgive the offense, pray for the person who offended us, and attempt to make amends.  From the perspective of time and distance, we can see where either Absalom or David could have mended the breach.

           2.) Isn’t it true that we reap what we sow?  David killed a man so he could have that man’s wife.  In the very next generation one son is sexually immoral, ravaging a woman who was not his wife.  The second son kills the first.  God forgives us of our sins—if we just humble ourselves and ask it of Him.  But He often lets us live with the fruit/the consequences of our mistakes, either in our own lives, or in our children’s or grandchildren’s generations.

3.) Forgive, before it’s too late. I picture King David wailing, keening his grief, sobbing with regret, wishing he had handled Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom differently–three children’s lives ruined. David must have been so sorry that he had not been as competent a father as he had been a king. What if he had sought out God in his parenting, as he did in so many other facets of his life? In Psalm 130:1 the psalmist laments, Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. In parenting, in all things, let us call upon the Lord…for wisdom to respond to our children in a righteous way; for assistance in not taking offense (or holding onto one); and for the grace to forgive as we have been forgiven. Amen! May it be so.

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Respect and Grace, Not Revenge.

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 27, 2021

Scriptures: 2 Samuel 1:1-27; Psalm 130

We live in a time when we are encouraged to get our revenge on our enemies, political or otherwise. Recently I heard a news commentator, Trey Gowdy, do a monologue on why he prefers sports to politics. (Gowdy used to be a US representative from South Carolina, but did not run for re-election due to his disgust over the corruption he encountered while serving in D.C.) He compared our national situation to a choice between golf, baseball, and professional wrestling: He said that in golf, players call penalties on themselves (The best golfers own their mistakes. No one respects the ones who lie or cheat.). In baseball, all agree to abide by the rulings of an umpire, and we all hope the umpire is fair to both sides. But in professional wrestling, there are no rules; no fairness; the end justifies the means (do whatever it takes to win); the outcome is fixed; and it is less a sport than entertainment.

Gowdy strongly implied that our national government is currently run more like professional wrestling than we might think or want. Political wrongdoers lack the integrity to hold themselves accountable or to admit and apologize for their wrongs. There is no national umpire/referee to enforce the rules fairly. And one’s political ends clearly appear to justify the means.

Nevertheless, Gowdy went on to opine that he has hope for America, due to how we tend to behave in sports:

1.) He reported having seen a woman in pro-golf recently pull for her opponent to sink a crucial putt.

2.) He related how another woman golfer–who had led the tournament only to lose at the end–did not blame others, the course, or her circumstances, but graciously thanked the fans for lifting her spirits.

3.) He shared how the Alabama softball team’s coach responded at the college world series. They interviewed him as his team was losing (This seems like kicking a guy when he is down, but reporters do this all the time). Rather than display anger or a vengeful attitude, the coach praised 2 other coach-peers who were retiring after the series.

The commentator hopes we will, as a nation, respond more like the sportswomen and the coach he referenced and less like politicians who do not congratulate or pull for their opponents; who only appreciate their followers but castigate those who disagree with them; and who blame anyone else for their defeat and desire revenge against their opponents.

A similar story is told about General Robert E. Lee, from about 150 years ago now. It appears that General William Whiting, a confederate peer, loudly and critically criticized Lee behind his back. You might think that Lee would wait for an opportunity to seek revenge upon the man. In fact, an opportunity presented itself one day when President Jefferson Davis summoned Gen. Lee to meet with him. The President asked Lee what he thought of Gen. Whiting. Without hesitation, Lee commended Whiting with high praise for his military abilities. Another officer who was present at the meeting called Lee aside to suggest that he must not be aware of the unkind things Whiting had been saying about him. Lee answered: “I understood that the President desired to know my opinion of Whiting, not Whiting’s opinion of me.” General Robert E. Lee was a man of integrity and a true gentleman—and a personal hero of mine. Lee could have potentially cost Gen. Whiting his career, but chose to take the higher road, instead.

Our Old Testament lesson today (2 Samuel 1:1-27) speaks to how our God wants us to take the higher road as well. The context finds Saul, his sons, and the Israelite army at war once again with the Philistines (about 14-15 years after David had defeated the Philistine champion, Goliath). David, not yet king and trying to maintain some distance from the murderous Saul, has been fighting the Amalakites.

As our passage opens, David has defeated his Amalakite opponents and returned to Ziklag, a town now unknown but reputedly somewhere south of Jerusalem.

It was there that he learned that Saul and Jonathan had been killed at Mt. Gilboa, in southern Galilee (to the north of David). Jonathan, as well as his two brothers, Abinadab, and Malk-Shana, was killed in battle. Saul himself had been seriously wounded but chose to fall on his own sword (to commit suicide) rather than being taken captive by the victorious Philistines.

David is severely grieved at the death of his dear friend Jonathan, but also very distressed at King Saul’s death. He had had 2 opportunities to kill Saul himself but had held off because he knew Saul was “the Lord’s anointed”. 1 Samuel 24:6 The LORD forbid that I should do this thing [kill Saul], to the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed. The Lord had agreed to Saul’s kingship. The people chose him and God had the prophet Samuel anoint him king. David reasoned the Lord would remove kingship from Saul when He, not David, determined. Notice: David waited on the Lord, the theme of our psalm today, Psalm 130.

Saul’s death was a big deal—he was the 1st King of Israel. We might equate his death with another: Back in March of 1991, one of the oldest and largest Redwoods in California died and fell to the ground. Locals called thetree “the Dyerville Giant,” and apparently it still lies where it landed. The tree had been 362 feet tall (the height of a 30-story building). They measured its diameter at 17 feet and its circumference at 52 feet. Experts somehow estimated its weight to exceed one million pounds and believe it was probably 2,000 years old. (My daughter has a degree in forestry and has told me that trees do have a life span. Like us, they grow old and die—no matter how well we water or fertilize them–just as this amazing redwood did.) When the Dyerville Giant hit the ground, people from a mile away said thought they had heard a train wreck. The vibrations were felt 10 miles away, and no doubt some thought they had experienced an earthquake. The death of this tree had a huge physiological impact on many. Additionally, people were touched and saddened at the demise of something so monumental.

But, sadly, in our contemporary view of things, there is no such respect—like for Saul or even for this tree–for those in authority with whom we disagree. We speak badly about them. We dismiss them or hold them in contempt when they fail to meet our expectations, or disappoint our hopes. And, in the extremes of “the cancel culture,” we target them for revenge, even when they are out of power, blasting them and castigating them in the press and on social media; trying to prevent them from getting new jobs, eating lunch peacefully, or just going about their lives; intimidating them with nuisance lawsuits and even threatening their lives.

Notice how David responds to the Amalekite man who brings him Saul’s crown and bracelet. (Obviously this guy does not realize that David has just been battling his own people.) Not understanding David’s godly forbearance for Saul, the guy mistakenly thinks David will reward him for falsely claiming he killed the king. Instead, David has the fellow killed, saying, (v.15)à Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, “I killed the Lord’s anointed.”

Then, David writes a lament which he intends for all the archers in Israel to memorize and recite as they each work on their bows. He expresses his grief:

1.) He curses Mt. Gilboa for being the site of Johnathan’s and Saul’s deaths. I looked this mountain up on the internet and saw where it is to this day only barren rocks and soil. Nothing seems to grow on it, over 3,000 years later.

2.) He praises Saul for the good he did, especially for bringing such prosperity to Israel that women could dress in red cloth (expensive due to dying techniques of that day).

3.) And he mourns for his close friend, Johnathan, who had proven more devoted to him (not in a homosexual way) than had most of his wives—including Johnathan’s sister, Michal, who Saul had given to him in marriage as a reward for killing Goliath.

4.) He seasons the lament with the repeated refrain, How the mighty have fallen! (which reminds me of the tree!)

I must admit, I am not always very respectful of those in power who make what I consider bone-headed decisions for our country, nor am I often kind to sports opponents. I wonder if the Lord is chastening me to be more respectful and grace-filled toward those with whom I disagree. I do believe that we are all called by Christ to offer grace and to respect the rights of those we consider our opponents. That’s part of the Gospel message, isn’t it? We are to love our enemies and pray for them. As Paul says in Romans 12:19-20àDo 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. On the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

While our culture may currently resemble professional wrestling, this is not God’s desire for us. This week, let’s try to be like a good golfer and admit our faults and correct our failings on our own. Let’s also remember we do have an eternal, heavenly, perfect umpire/referee who enforces the rules fairly; offers grace and forgiveness to us all; and who doesn’t miss a thing!

In closing, I would ask you to consider the former custom of a prehistoric tribe in New Guinea. When they prepared to confront an enemy tribe in battle, they would preface their attack with what they called “murder songs.” As they sang these songs, they named before their gods the specificpersons they wished to kill. However, once they converted to Christianity, instead of shouting the names any people they hated, they shouted the names of the sins they hated, and called on God to destroy these sins. We could take a lesson from these Paleolithic tribesmen! Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

5