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

Dire Warnings

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 10, 2022

Scriptures: Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Have you ever noticed that sometimes authorities/experts misdirect us? Some examples of this include the following:

1. In my training as a psychologist in the late 1980’s, we were told not to talk to people about their spiritual beliefs. Supposedly, it was none of our business and not germane to emotional or cognitive struggles. But then I came to realize—thru experience—that at the root of most emotional problems is a misperception (or two or three) about God. True healing requires that we talk these through.

2. Consider the Covid advice and the mandates. We were told to close the churches so as not to spread the virus. But the history of the Christian Church in the first and second centuries demonstrates that the Church grew because Christians helped tend the sick through two vicious plagues. Scripture tells us (Hebrews 10:25) Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. And Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. That’s why we reopened so much sooner than most others around us.

3. You have probably heard the adage, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” This is good advice when raising teenagers. However, my son and I have each written 2 books mostly during the hours from 10pm-2:00 am. As “night owls,” we are most creative then. Additionally, no one else is awake to interrupt or to distract us.

4. I have also heard church authorities tell preachers not to touch on political issues in their sermons. It is often true that if you criticize one party, you run the risk of alienating those who favor it. But you may have noticed that I do criticize what appears to me to be corruption, collusion, and outright fraud and deception—in whichever party—because these behaviors are opposed to, are antithetical to the Christian life. There comes a time when, as a pastor, I have to point out for us how our culture is veering off into directions that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. I don’t want for you to be conned or misled. And I have to please the Lord, even if it “ruffles the feathers” of some.

Consider the current push toward Socialism—and ultimately Communism—by the “Progressives” in our culture today. This week I read a book called The Naked Communist: Exposing Communism and Restoring Freedom. It was written in 1958 by an FBI agent tasked with investigating communist efforts in the U.S., and updated/reprinted 7 more times (most recently in 2017) by W. Cleon Skousen (and his son, Paul). Dr. Ben Carson says it lays out the whole “Progressive” plan for America. I believe Skousen (and Carson) are right.

Skousen reveals 45 goals of Communism designed to take over the US, and asserts that 44 of them have already been at least partially achieved. Consider the following for example:

#15 Capture one or both of the political parties in US;

#17 Get control of the schools, especially through rewriting history;

#20 Infiltrate the press;

#25 & #26 Breakdown cultural standards of sexual morality; promote pornography, alternate forms of sexual expression, and promiscuity as normal, natural, and healthy.

#27 Infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with “social religion;” discredit the Bible.

#28 Eliminate prayer or any type of religious expression in the schools, as a violation of the separation of church and state. I remember when I first arrived in Florida in the mid-1970’s and was teaching in public high school, we began each day with prayer and a Bible verse.

#29 Discredit the American Founding Fathers.

#40 Discredit the American family as an institution. Encourage promiscuity and easy divorce. Florida has “No Fault” divorce, which means a divorce can be granted if only one person wants the marriage to end. Traditional grounds like adultery or cruelty are no longer required.

#42 Create the impression that violence and insurrection are legitimate aspects of the American tradition.

If we examine current trends in the US, we can recognize, with Skousen, how many of these goals have already been achieved in our country.

This brings me to our Old Testament lesson for today: Amos 7:7-17. Amos was a farmer and herdsman, from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, who God ordained as a prophet and sent to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. (His name, Amos, means burden-bearer.) He was a commoner, not of the priestly or political classes. He was an outsider. He prophesized during the reigns of King Ussiah—a good king–in Judah (790-740BC) and of Jeroboam II—a bad king– in Israel (793-753). This was a time of prosperity and security in both kingdoms. Biblical scholars tell us that luxury abounded; that making money had become more important than worshipping God; and that empty “ritual religion” and other forms of spirituality were popular, but belief in and obedience to God was waning. The rich exploited the poor. The judicial system was corrupt, offering one standard for the rich and the influential, and another for the poor. Injustice was rampant, as the peoples’ moral fiber had eroded. Sound familiar?

So God sent Amos to declare His judgment on Israel. He issued a call to repentance. He urged Israelites to seek God sincerely. His job was to warn the Northern Kingdom that God was losing patience with them. The Lord told him to prophesy that that God’s judgment was looming. He was to issue the dire warning that their end was coming. God always gives us plenty of warning before He enacts His judgment. Amos addressed Israel from 760-750BC. The Northern Kingdom was defeated and either killed or carried off by Assyria in 722BC.

In this morning’s reading, we have one of Amos’ warnings. God tells him His judgment is like holding a plumb line to a building or to a strip of wallpaper. If a line is plumb, it hangs vertically and is “straight.” I have hung wall-paper a number of times in my life, and I always snapped a blue chalk-line to ensure the first strip went up plumb. God uses this same image in the prophesies of Isaiah (28:16-19), Jeremiah (31:38-39), and Zechariah (2:1-5) to indicate that He is getting ready to render a judgment. The plumb line is God’s ethical standard, which the people have failed to meet.

Then the passage moves to communications between Amos and Amaziah, the pagan priest of Bethel (King Jeroboam’s Chapel): Amaziah reports Amos to the king, but distorts the prophet’s message (an early example of fake news). He accuses Amos of conspiracy against the King. He misquotes Amos, exaggerating and personalizing the prophet’s predictions. The prophet never says Jeroboam will be killed in battle; instead, Amos predicts Jeroboam’s “house” or dynasty will fall by the sword.

Amaziah brings the King’s message to Amos–>Go back where you belong. Amaziah was no doubt refined, well-educated, perhaps even charismatic and given to flowery speech—we recognize the type, slick and persuasive. He probably considered Amos a country “rube,” a “deplorable,” someone beneath his contempt. He implies Amos is a prophet for hire, being paid to bring bad news—or, worse yet, a fanatic. But Amos answers him, calmly, with modesty and moderation: No, I am not seminary trained nor the son of a prophet. I’m here because the God you no longer worship told me to come. Amos then pronounces God’s judgment against the real false authority, the pagan priest:

1.) Amaziah will die in captivity;

2.) His wife will be reduced to prostitution to survive;

3.) His sons and daughters will be killed (by the blood-thirsty and vicious Assyrians);

4.) His land will be divided (remember, a Levite never had land);

5.) And Israel will be exiled.

Notice that Amaziah had position, wealth, authority, and reputation—but was still dead wrong. Amos lacked these human credentials, but had the true word and the blessing of God Almighty!

If we compare this portion of Scripture with the Communist goals for America cited by Skousen, you can see that, first of all, we (America) are out of plumb with God. Tragically, our culture has wandered far from God’s will. In 2017, polls reported that 32% of US adults under 30 have no religious affiliation. In a recent interview of random strangers on the street in New York, I heard a guy say he did not know who the interviewer meant when he asked him about God. He’d not heard of God. Church attendance is down in most all denominations. Many of those who left with the quarantines/shutdowns have not returned.

Secondly, this means, I believe, that our country is headed toward God’s judgment. Please understand that the Progressive agenda is at best socialist and at worst communist. Both are anti-God and anti-Christianity. This is why we earnestly pray each Sunday for a revival of American faith in Jesus. This is why we pray that the crooks, the dishonest, and the ungodly in both parties in our country would be voted out of office and replaced with Godly persons who love Jesus and love the USA.

This is why we pray for a decline in violence and a rebirth of national respect for life and the rights of others.

Finally, we have to wonder what we can do. Our God issues dire warnings before He brings on His judgment. We need to consider ourselves warned. So, we can…

1. Refuse to be bullied by the progressive culture.

2. Decide, will you obey humans or obey God?

3. Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana humorously says, “Eat your veggies and vote them out of office!”

4. Consider 2 Chronicles 7:14 …if My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Ask God to forgive the sins of our country.

The Lord views us both individually and as a national group, so we can take it on ourselves to ask forgiveness for our national sins. Look around, think about it, and you will know what they are. We can also pray diligently and seek His face.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Packing Light, Packing Right

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 26, 2022

Scriptures: 2 Kgs 2:1-18; Ps 77:1-2, 11-20; Gal 5:1. 13-25; Lk 9:51-62

I would have liked to preach the passage about Elijah and Elisha, or the one from Galatians, but the Lord told me to preach the Gospel lesson today. I wrote my sermon, then looked back over my sermons for the past 6 years, and realized that I had preached this Gospel lesson (Luke 9:51-62) twice already, in 2016 and 2019. The Lord must believe we need to hear this lesson yet again.

The story is told of a dairy farmer who decided he needed a new pick-up truck: “He had seen an ad in the paper about discounts and factory rebates, so he decided to trade in his old clunker. [My farmer son-in-law just replaced his pick-up truck; it had 470,000 miles on it!] He chose a new model and was ready to write the check for the full amount. The salesman said, “Wait, I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” The farmer said, “Isn’t it the price I saw in the papers? The salesman said, “No, that’s for the basic model, all the options cost extra.” So after the options were added, the farmer reluctantly wrote a check and drove off in his new pick-up.

A few months later the car salesman called the farmer because he wanted to buy a cow for his son’s 4-H [or FFA] project. The farmer assured the car salesman he had several good milk cows for sale for $500. The salesman drove out and selected a cow and took out his checkbook. The farmer said, “Wait. I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” Then he handed the salesman a bill that read:

BASIC COW $500

Two-tone exterior $45, Extra stomach $75, Milk storage compartment $60, Straw recycle compartment $120, Four handy spigots @ $10 each $40, Leather upholstery $125, Dual horns $45, Automatic rear fly swatter $38, Natural fertilizer attachment $185.

GRAND TOTAL $1233.

Whether you’re buying cars or cows, it’s important to get to what we call “the bottom line.” What is the “bottom line” of following Jesus? You may go into sticker shock when you discover it. Many people are only interested in the basic model of Christian living. They want just enough Christianity to keep them out of hell without intruding on their fun. You don’t find the full cost of discipleship advertised very often these days. Few preachers discuss it because it is unpleasant; it doesn’t fill churches. It isn’t the prosperity gospel that says, “Believe and you will be rich and happy.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship [and he should know as he died for his faith], “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to die.” (borrowed from a sermon by David Dykes, Don’t Waste Your Life, 8/31/2011.)

Pretty sobering, isn’t it?

Now consider, if you felt called to follow Jesus (and I hope each of you does), how would you pack? You might take a change or two of clothing; your Bible; your toothbrush, comb, and some toiletries; and your prescription meds and any supplements you use. But Jesus doesn’t concern Himself with any of these practical items. Instead He tells you to count the cost, to be sure you are prepared to do what it takes to be His follower. He is more concerned with your priorities than your creature comforts. He is most concerned with your heart-attitudes.

Essentially the message of our Gospel lesson today is to “Pack Light and Pack Right” (Luke 9:51-62). Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and to His crucifixion. He knows His time left to disciple/train His followers is brief. So He takes the shortcut, from His 3rd tour of Galilee in the North to Jerusalem in the South–which involves walking through Samaria. He has sent messengers ahead to a village to prepare for His arrival. He now travels with a retinue including the 12 disciples and a number of women who help pay their expenses from their own wealth. Unfortunately, the messengers discover the Samaritans there don’t want Him to sojourn in their village. YIKES! They reject Christ!

John and James are so outraged that they ask Him to call down the wrath of God on that community. They must have forgotten His admonition to them at the beginning of Chapter 9, when He had sent out the 12, two-by-two to practice on their own what He had taught and demonstrated for them: (1) They were to pack light, depending on God for their provision; (2) They were to preach, heal the sick, and cast out demons in Jesus’ name; (3) And they were to shake the dust off their feet and leave behind any who rebuffed them. There was to be no punishing of those who rejected them or Jesus.

In a sense, rejecting Jesus embodies its own punishment: eternal damnation. Remember, the pig farmers from last week’s Gospel (Luke 8:26-39), preferred saving their livelihoods to saving their souls. Jesus didn’t even rebuke them. He just got back in the boat and returned to Galilee. Jesus’ way is not to take revenge, not to try to ruin those who disagree with Him—so counter to our cancel culture of today. Instead, Jesus modeled for us to be patient, and to pray for and offer grace and forgiveness to those who reject Christ, or who mock or spurn us because we follow Him.

In His subsequent encounters with 3 would-be disciples, Jesus teaches that following Him takes commitment. The 1st man says confidently (v.57) that he will follow Jesus anywhere. Perhaps he has in mind the idea of following a traditional rabbi. Students walked beside or behind him and absorbed his teaching. Later they would convey it to others, saying: Rabbi Hillel said this…Rabbi Gamaliel said that. Have you ever noticed that Jesus never referenced another rabbi, saying instead, you have heard it said ________, but I say ________. There was no more important authority than Jesus, the Father or the Spirit.

But the apostles could have told the man that following Jesus was more like following a prophet. It included a kind of peripatetic “home-schooling.” They learned from Him while they walked with Him, listening to His wisdom and witnessing His miracles. Additionally, a prophet lived off of donations from those who responded to his ministry. So Jesus tells the guy, I’m homeless. Can you commit to being homeless too? I’m rejected. Can you live with being rejected too? Interestingly, Scripture doesn’t tell us the guy’s answer.

Jesus Himself recruited the 2nd fellow (v.59), and the man seemed to have a legitimate reason for hesitating—First let me go and bury my father. Jesus’ reply seems severe: Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Biblical scholars believe the guy’s father may have been alive still and thriving (Jesus would know that). He was asking to delay until a later time, like…wait until my kids finish high school; until my daughter gets married (and I have paid off the wedding); until my health improves; or until I win the lottery. Jesus was nearly out of time, so this excuse didn’t wash with Him. Nothing, not even family obligations, should come before what we owe God. Whenever there is a choice, God comes 1st.

The 3rd man volunteers to follow Jesus, but wants a brief delay to bid farewell to his family. Again Jesus offers him what seems to our ears a harsh admonition (v.62) No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. (If someone pushing a hand-plow looks back, they are sure to plow a crooked row.). Jesus’ exacting sounding response means that the man cannot hang onto his old life and also adopt the new. Being Jesus’ disciple means not looking back but looking forward to what might be a rough road ahead.

Recently I read a true story about a preacher who was standing at the door shaking hands as the congregation departed. He grabbed one man by the hand and pulled him aside. The preacher said to him, “You need to join the Army of the Lord!” The man replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Preacher.” The preacher questioned, “How come I don’t see you except for Christmas and Easter?” He whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”

Given what Jesus says in today’s Gospel, how many of you think our Lord would be pleased by what the guy in this story said? Jesus may have been amused, but I think He would then have taken the guy to task. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us (10:25)–>Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another….We encourage each other when we worship together. We have also seen that there is power in corporate worship and power in corporate prayer. Furthermore, once you get into the habit of attending church, you feel like your whole day is amiss if you skip it. Times I have almost not come to church (before being ordained), I would discover something was preached or a Scripture was read that I was exactly meant to hear. If I had not attended that day, I would have missed out on something the Lord meant for me to learn!

When we follow Jesus, we sign on to more than the “basic model” of Christianity, which is…we love Him; we obey Him; and we love others. But we also pack Light—only the essentials—and we pack Right. We choose Jesus above all relationships and all things. He comes 1st. We follow Him, even if it means we suffer rejection and perhaps persecution (On Pentecost, 50 Nigerian Christians were killed while worshipping in their church—most likely by Nigerian Moslems. I know an Anglican Bishop there, Ben Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria. He has for years slept on a concrete floor instead of a comfortable bed, anticipating the day his Moslem neighbors arrest and imprison him. We don’t experience that kind of persecution—yet. But you may have noticed increasingly negative remarks about Christians in the media, and you may have experienced being mocked for your faith.

A number of you have heard me say that I had a vision of Jesus right before I was ordained. He wore the crown of thorns and a white robe, and smiled at me. I believed then and still do that His smile meant He approved of my entering the ministry. He didn’t say a word, but He reached behind Himself and pulled out a crown of thorns for me too. Later, I realized He was warning me that the cost of discipleship is high. I thought to myself at the time, At least it wasn’t a cross! But recently a pastor friend told me one of our seminary professors said in class, If you want to be ordained, you should ask yourself, “How do I look on wood?” Ordained or not, following Jesus is not a walk in the park. it is a death to self. However, embracing Jesus and dying to self is the only route to God’s heart.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Changing our Lives for the Better

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 2, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 31:7-14; Ps 147:12-20; Eph 1:3-19; Jn 1:1-18

The story is told….of a guy named Bill who called his folks to wish them a Happy New Year. His dad answered the phone. Bill said, “So, dad, what’s your New Year’s Resolution for 2022?” His dad answered, “To make your mother as happy as I can each day of this new year.” When Bill’s mother got on the line, he asked her the same question: “Mom, what’s your New Year’s resolution?” His mom replied, “Why, to make sure your dad keeps his New Year’s resolution.”

An unknown wit has added, “Dear Lord, my prayer for this New Year is to develop a fat bank account and a thin body. Please don’t mix these up like You did in 2021.”

This is the time of year that we resolve to begin again to make a better person of ourselves: Perhaps we resolve to be less critical of others and more grace-filled. Perhaps we choose to tame our tempers or our frustrations with others. We may decide to count to 10, to perfect deep breathing (inhale through the nose to a count of four; hold for a count of 4; exhale from the mouth to a count of 5). It is a robust finding in both psychological and medical research that these techniques lower our blood pressure and our respirations, and help us to relax. We may try to breathe out anger, then breathe in peace. Maybe we resolve to read a Bible passage each day, or to pray more regularly. Maybe we aim to become less self-focused and more loving towards others, more Christ-like.

Whatever resolutions you have made—and I hope you have made some—our Scriptures today focus on changing our lives for the better.

A. Jeremiah 31:7-14, our Old Testament lesson, is derived from a dark time in the history of Judah/Jerusalem (around 587 BC). A wicked nonbeliever, a puppet king, Zedekiah rules. The Northern Kingdom (Israel) has already been destroyed and dispersed by the Assyrians (722 BC). As onlookers, the citizens of the Southern Kingdom have learned nothing from Israel’s example. So now King Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonians is attacking Jerusalem. His 30 month siege resulted in horrible deprivation. Those within Jerusalem’s walls had plenty of water from a natural spring. What they began to lack, though, was food. By the time the Babylonian king broke through the city walls, some had been reduced to eating their children. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city and the Temple, and carted off all the able-bodied to Babylon.

In the midst of this awful set of circumstances, Jeremiah is prophesying beyond this horrible time to reassure the people of God’s love. Yes, their idolatry (spiritual adultery) has brought upon them God’s just punishment. But the Lord wants them to know—that at some future date– He will gather them up from wherever they are and return them to “the Holy Land.” Furthermore, embedded in this message of comfort are indications of Jesus’ 1st and 2nd Comings. Yes, God will punish the idolaters; but because He still loves them, He will not abandon them. God says, through the prophet, (v.13) I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow

History tells us God did not give up on His Chosen People! God has not abandoned we true believers either! He sent Jesus Christ to change their lives for the better. He has sent Jesus Christ and He has changed our lives forever! Think back to when you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Haven’t you changed? I have. A show of hands in our congregation confirms that you too have changed, often radically, since being “born again” in Christ.

B. Ps 147 is a hymn of praise to God, the Creator, for His special grace extended to Israel (and by extension to us). It affirms that God controls the universe and all that is in it. Verse 2 reaffirms that the Lord loves Israel, His Chosen People. Just as in the Jeremiah passage, the psalmist prophesies that God will re-gather His people. He also states that God… heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds

A time is coming (2nd Advent of Christ) when God will again visit His people. He will then bless us with peace, plenty, and protection/safety. These actions will certainly change their lives (and ours) for the better.

C. In Ephesians 1:3-19, our New Testament lesson, Paul prays for this church out of his love for them (which he models for us). He wants the Holy Spirit to strengthen them (and us) internally, spiritually, so that they might be rooted and grounded in Christ and rooted and grounded in love. Paul wants them to be so firmly established as Christians that they never doubt God’s love for them.

Finally he prays that they (and we) might be (v.19) filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. If they—and we—are internally strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit, rooted in Christ and grounded in love, as well as filled with the fullness of God, we are going to be radically different, phenomenally better persons! And the impact we have on others will also generate positive changes in them.

D. Finally in the Gospel lesson appointed for today, John 1:1-18, the apostle John wants us to be assured that Jesus Christ was not just present at Creation, but that He spoke Creation into existence. This is why He is called “The Word,” or “the Word made flesh.” The Word spoke and creation came into being. Additionally, John wants us to know that Jesus both brings forth life and is Himself light. John admits that not everyone—then or now–will believe in Jesus, but for those of us who do, we will become/we are children of God. We will have seen God the Father in the face and in the actions of Jesus, His Son.

And, by implication, this faith of ours in Jesus will change our lives for the better.

As we say goodbye to 2021 and embark on what will unfold in 2022, let’s be intentional about changing our lives for the better.

Let’s follow the advice offered by Frances Ridley Havergal in his poem entitled “New Year’s Wishes”:

What shall I wish thee? Treasures of earth?

Songs in the springtime, pleasure and mirth?

Flowers on thy pathway, skies ever clear?

Would this insure thee a happy New Year?

What shall I wish thee? What can be found

Bringing thee sunshine all the year round?

Where is the treasure, lasting and dear,

That shall insure thee a happy New Year?

Faith that increaseth, waking in light;

Hope that aboundeth, happy and bright;

Love that is perfect, casting out fear;

These shall insure thee a happy New Year.

Peace in the Saviour, rest at His feet,

Smile on His countenance, radiant and sweet.

Joy in His presence, Christ ever near!

This will insure thee a happy New Year

In 2022, we have a new opportunity to change our lives for the better. Really, it all hinges on loving God and loving others more. I know I must sound like a broken record to you, as I say this to you repeatedly. But God is love and we worship Him, the God of love. He wants us to become more loving. By being grounded in the love of Jesus, we can change ourselves for the better; and our demonstrations of love will make a more positive impact on the people with whom we interact. If you doubt your ability to do this, remember, I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. Amen!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Epiphany

Where are We Left?

Pastor Sherry’s message for 10/19/2021

Scriptures: Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Ps 104:1-9, 24, 35c; Heb 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

Hudson Taylor (1832-1903), the great British missionary to China, spent 51 years in ministry there. Raised a Methodist, he went to China as a Baptist, founded the China Inland Mission—which targeted the interior of the country–brought 800 missionaries over the years to join him; founded 125 schools in 18 provinces, and led over 18,000 souls to Christ.

The story is told of his first voyage to China, aboard a sailing vessel. As it neared the channel between the southern Malay Peninsula and the island of Sumatra, the missionary heard an urgent knock on his stateroom door. He opened it, and there stood the captain of the ship. “Mr. Taylor,” he said, “we have no wind. We are drifting toward an island where the people are heathen, and I fear they are cannibals.”

What can I do?” asked Taylor.

“I understand that you believe in God. I want you to pray for wind.”

All right, Captain, I will, but you must set the sail.” “Why that’s ridiculous! There’s not even the slightest breeze. Besides, the sailors will think I’m crazy.” But finally, because of Taylor’s insistence, he agreed. Forty- five minutes later he returned and found the missionary still on his knees. “You can stop praying now,” said the captain. “We’ve got more wind than we know what to do with!”

Obviously, Taylor was a man of prayer. Additionally, he believed in God’s call on his life. He believed in God’s power to equip and provide for him. He also believed he would successfully make it to China and that God would do a mighty work among the Chinese through him. Similarly, I had felt convinced of God’s call on my life. Once, when I was in seminary, my school sent me to a conference in Jackson, Mississippi. On my return to Pittsburgh from Jackson, our plane hit some very bumpy weather. The woman in the seat next to me was a seasoned traveler. She flew frequently for work. But during this trip, she took out the “barf bag,” convinced she would lose her lunch before we crashed. I told her not to worry. I had prayed that angels would hold up our wings, the nose, and the tail of the plane and was convinced the Lord would save us because I was halfway through seminary and knew that God was not yet finished with me.

Taylor read the same Bible we do (probably the King James version.) Our passages today are all about faith. They appear to answer the question, “Where are we left?” Or, you may prefer, “Where does that leave us?” Or, as cynics might say, “What’s the point?”

I believe that question is best answered if we take our passages in order. Please pay attention to what our Lord is saying to us (The Bible is His love song to us).

A. In Job 38:1-7, 34-41, we find God revealing Himself to Job from the midst of a whirlwind, an impressive phenomenon of nature. Job has wanted an opportunity to put his case before the Lord. In our passage today, God shows up as Creator of the Universe. He begins by telling Job, in verse 2, that his complaints are unjustified because he argues from a place of limited understanding. Notice, the Lord does not explain why Job had to suffer, nor does he defend His divine right to let him. Instead, from verses 3-41, God asks Job a series of rhetorical questions about creation, all of which point to God’s power, sovereignty, and loving care. Essentially, God is saying to Job, “Who are you–My creation–to question, to critique Me–your Creator?” In a subsequent chapter, Job will admit that God is Sovereign over all things, including himself, and will humbly retreat from being angry with or making demands of God.

So, reading and understanding this passage, Where are we left? Like Job, we should stand in awe of God and His creative power. Like Job, we should trust in God because He is our creator and the lover of our souls.

Paul starts from the same place in Romans 1. Paul says God’s creation so demonstrates His greatness that unbelievers have no excuse to be atheists. Evidence of His goodness and His power surround us in nature. True, we are free to reject Him, but YIKES! He will allow us to do so, but we act to our detriment as He removes His “umbrella of protection” from us. Like Job, we want to trust in God’s goodness and love for us, despite our questions.

Remember the example of Hudson Taylor: When faced with cannibals, he didn’t get frustrated with God; instead, he trusted in God to see him through safely.

B. Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c continues the theme. Biblical scholars call this psalm a hymn of praise to the God of Creation. In fact, it appears to address the same questions God raised with Job. In Job 38:4, God asks Job, Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell Me, if you understand. Psalm104:5 says—He [God] set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. In Job 38:8, God asks Job, Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb?

The answer appears in Psalm 104:6-9–You [The Lord] covered it [the earth] with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. But at Your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.

Where are we left? Like Job, we should praise God for His power, His greatness, and His wisdom. Even when we don’t understand why things are going the way they are in our lives, we should praise God for His creation.

C. The writer to the Hebrews, in Hebrews 5:1-10, defines the function or purpose of a priest. Pastors are still referred to as priests in the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Episcopal traditions. In the Protestant Reformation, however, priests were renamed as “pastors,” “ministers,” or “reverends.” No matter what you call him or her, however, the duties of a pastor include: (1) Being a person of prayer; (2) Having been called by God (acceptable to God); (3) To represent the people to God; and (4) To explain God’s Word to people.

The writer to the Hebrews wants folks to understand that Jesus currently fulfills the role of our Great High Priest. He sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us. Some would say He fulfilled the role of Prophet as he taught and healed during His earthly ministry. He spoke the words His Father gave Him to speak. He communicated the Father’s love, will, and healing power to us. They also contend we will see Him as King when He comes again, in glory, to assume His rightful authority over all the earth. So we see His 3 roles as prophet, priest, and king.

Jesus did all the things an earthly priest would do: He was a man of prayer. He was called and ordained to ministry (at His baptism, the Father said, This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased). He provided the sacrifice for our sins—the once and for all perfect sacrifice—not of animals but of Himself. He was totally submitted to the will of His Father, even unto death.

So, where are we left? Saved and secure! Saved and secure! Jesus paid our sin debt. Jesus’ sacrifice earned our salvation, our freedom.

Again, we should be grateful!

D. Jesus teaches the disciples, once again—in Mark 10:35-45–that ministry in His Kingdom is not about position and power, but about servanthood and humility. John and James are jockeying for favored positions in Jesus’ new administration. Jesus responds to them in two ways:

First, He asks in verse 38–Can you drink the cup I drink? This is an old Jewish expression which means, Can you share my fate? They appear to believe they can. Next, He tells them they will suffer and die, as He is going to, but that He does not have the authority to grant them positions of privilege—that prerogative is the Father’s. .

The angry response of the other 10 to John and James power ploy prompts Jesus’ teaching in verses 42-45–You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. What pleases God in His Kingdom is our each having a servant’s heart. Demonstrating humble and loving service to God and others is how we advance in the Lord’s eyes.

So, where are we left? Serving God and others, humbly rather than looking for recognition, bonuses, or rewards.

Where are we left? We want to trust in God, in spite of our circumstances. The God of Creation–the God who created us–deserves our adoration and praise. The author of our salvation, Jesus, deserves our gratitude and love. The Father is worthy. Jesus is worthy. The Holy Spirit is worthy.

Additionally, in God’s Kingdom, He responds favorably to prayer and humble service. He restored a humble and worshipful Job. He raised an obedient Son from the dead. He listened to and responded to the prayers of a humble missionary, Hudson Taylor.

As I see it, the following story seems to indicate where God might have us end up:

Some years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants–all physically or mentally disabled–assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, that is, except one little boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry.

The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked back. Then they all turned around and went back… every one of them! One girl with Down’s Syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, “This will make it better.” Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes.

Stories like this warm our hearts, and may even make us cry. Those children showed all the adults watching how we are to love and to live—not left crying on the track, but uplifted, helped, and loved by our friends. We can be this loving and caring. Let’s practice having servants’ hearts this week. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

PASSING MARKS

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 10, 2021

Scriptures: Job 23:1-17; Ps 22:1-15; Heb 4:12-18; Mk 10:17-31

The story is told of an Ohio State University student who was academically competent but tended to need time to complete assignments (smart but not speedy).  You may know the type.  They do know the material, but think things through carefully until they have the right answer.  Others may come to the answer more rapidly but few are as careful as this.

The student was troubled by a Calculus class he needed to pass—and wasn’t—with a demanding, annoying professor.  The guy seemed to delight in frustrating his already discouraged students.  During exams, he would walk around, watching them like a hawk, expecting to discover someone cheating.  He would frequently announce the amount of time left—30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.- just to interrupt their trains of thought and to agitate everyone.  In a class of 1,000 students, the slow-but-steady young man was the only one not to turn in his exam when time was called.

The prof waited impatiently and then, an hour later, when the young man finally finished his test, the prof asked him what he thought he was doing.  The kid answered, “Turning in my exam.”  The prof replied, “Your exam is an hour late. Congratulations!  You’ve failed it.  So, I will see you next term when you repeat my class.”  The student smiled and asked, “Do you know my name?”  The prof replied gruffly and incredulously, “What?” The student rephrased his question, “Do you know what my name is?” With irritation, the prof replied, “There are 1,000 students in this class.  What makes you think I would know your name?”  The student then smiled, and, lifting up a tall stack of test booklets, placed his completed test in the middle of the pile and casually exited the huge lecture hall.

Life sometimes presents us with tests–and authority figures– like that one.  We may think our prospects are slim and we don’t have much of a chance of succeeding. But the truth is that if we have a relationship with the Lord, we can make it through any trial that might come.  Let’s see what our passages today have to add to this issue:

A.  Our OT lesson comes from Job 23:1-17.  You may recall that the Lord is so confident of Job’s righteousness that He allows Satan to strip him of his family, his wealth, and his health.  Satan is sure Job will turn against God if his blessings are all removed.  But Job is such a faithful believer that he does not, even though his wife advises (Job 2:9), Curse God and die (Great advice, right? Horrible!).

Instead, Job spends much of the book trying to figure out how he has offended God.  He believes he is being punished, but stops short of blaming God (This is such a good lesson for us!).  In today’s chapter, he begins to believe his faith is being put to the test.  So he wants an opportunity to speak to God face to face.  In verse 3 he admits he doesn’t know where to find Him; in verses 4-7, he is sure that if he could locate God, and confront Him, God wouldn’t find any problems with him.

YIKES!  Don’t you just want to tell Job 3 things:

    #1, None of us is without sin—as Paul says, except for Jesus, No, not one!  As J. Vernon McGee says, No one can go into the presence of God to defend himself.  We must all go before God to plead guilty before him.  Every one of us is guilty (commentary on Job, p.125).  We are only made righteous—we only have passing marks– because we have been cleansed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

    #2, So, if we think we can defend ourselves before God, we need to remember to approach Him with humility.  He is God; we are not! 

    #3, Finally, anyone who seriously wants to find God will do so.  Our God is not hiding from us.  In fact, He calls us to Himself.  If we really want to meet up with Him, He will make Himself known to us—through Scripture, dreams, billboards, overheard conversations, song lyrics, and life events (to name a few means at His disposal).  And unlike the calculus professor at Ohio State, God is for us, not against us.

But praise God!  By the time Job arrives at verse 10, he realizes he is being tested for some purpose.  Like us, he doesn’t yet know what the purpose is.  Like us, he doesn’t understand why he needs testing.  But—hopefully also like us—he does believe that God is using this testing to somehow bring about His good purposes in Job’s life.  If we let it, trouble strengthens our faith.  If we let it, trouble improves our moral character.

If we let Him, God will comfort us and equip us as we move through our difficulties.  Some unnamed wise person once said, You know that God has never promised that we would miss the storm, but He has promised that we would make the harbor.

B.  Psalm 22 is known as “the Psalm of the Cross.”  Written by King David (around 1,000BC) before the Romans invented crucifixion, it provides us a clear window into Jesus’ thoughts as He hung on the Cross.  Some scholars believe Jesus recited this psalm from memory while nailed to the Cross.  In verses 1-2, Jesus essentially cries out to His Father, My God, where are you?  He is feeling deserted and abandoned.  In verses 3-5, He reminds Himself that His Father is the Holy One in whom the patriarchs of Israel put their trust…they trusted and You delivered them…in You they trusted and were not disappointed.

Unlike Job or us, Jesus was entirely without sin.  He had personally done nothing to merit death.  In verses 6-8, He states that He knows He has not provoked the attacks of vicious and vindictive men; and that, thus far, God has not delivered Him from their cruelty.  He reminds His Father that He has trusted in Him from birth.  Finally, verses 12-15 describe His deep physical and emotional distress.  Here is indeed a portrait of unjust suffering.  By the end of the psalm, however–as by the end of the book of Job–we find that the truly righteous, despite their suffering, still maintain their faith in the Lord.

C. Our Gospel lesson (Mark 10:17-31) relates Jesus’ encounter with a rich young man.  The fellow mistakenly believes in his own righteousness.  He says he has kept the last 6 commandments all of his life, the ones that have to do with how we relate to others.  We are told that Jesus loved him, even though He realized the man has probably not kept the first 4.  How did Jesus know?  He recognized the man’s wealth was an impediment to his relationship with God.  Jesus asks him to give it up.  The young man walks away from Christ because he cannot (his wealth was his idol); and both he and Jesus are saddened by his decision.

The message is to give up whatever keeps us from remaining close to Jesus.  At one time with me, it was my children.  I didn’t trust God to care for them.  I had to give that up and then noted how much better they did than when I tried to control them.  Later, I learned that God was not selling my house because I was not willing to pastor a church.  I thought I had been called to ordained ministry, as a psychologist, to do therapy with the clergy.  But the Lord made it clear I had to give that goal up too.  The day that I agreed to do whatever God asked of me, my house sold.  My realtor brought a couple by to see it at 5:00pm and I had a signed contract by 8:00pm.  Jesus promises us we will receive blessings 100 times greater than whatever we have to give up for His sake.  He promises us eternal life, despite any and all persecution.

D.  The writer to the Hebrews (4:12-18) wants us never to forget that God’s Word activates us/energizes us to hold firm to our faith.  Scripture is more than words on a page.  It comes with power to help us achieve what God has for us.  Secondly, it exposes us to God’s sight.  If we compare ourselves to the biblical standard, we see where we fall short.  We can’t really get away with slipping our exam booklet into the middle of the pile.  God knows all about us.  Thirdly, Jesus’ example, and His once and for all perfect sacrifice for our sins, allows us now to approach God’s throne of grace not with fear of condemnation, but with confidence in God’s loving grace and mercy.

None of us wants to suffer, do we? Nevertheless, we have to realize that following Christ does not give us a pass to avoid problems.

Rather it is a guarantee—as we see in the outcomes of Jesus and of Job—of blessings and God’s favor following our faithfulness through trials.  Because of God’s grace and mercy, we are all like calculus students who have gotten away with not finishing on time by putting our test booklets in the middle of the pile.  Chuck Swindoll has written (in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, p.35), “Every problem is an opportunity to prove God’s power.  Every day we encounter countless golden opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insurmountable problems.”

Let us pray:  Lord, we know we make better than passing marks when we remember that You do not promise to save us from trials, but You do promise to be present with us as we endure them.  We ask Jesus to tattoo on our hearts the reminder that He suffered untold agonies to atone, in advance, for our sins.  Help us to recognize that there is nothing we can do to achieve or earn our salvation.  Our money will not get us to Heaven, just as our good behavior or our generosity toward others will not.  It is only by loving You and Jesus, and accepting our grace-filled redemption at Your hands, that we are saved.  Assist us to let go of all and any impediments or roadblocks to having a satisfying, deeply faithful, intimate relationship with You.  Amen! 

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Dangers of Pride

Pastor Sherry’s message for Jul 11, 2021

Scriptures: 2 Sam 6:1-23; Ps 24; Eph 1:3-14; Mk 6:14-29

Last week, we looked at what Scripture had to say about humility…about how frustration and disappointment—if we will depend upon God–can teach us patience, deepen our faith, and develop our character. This week, as the Lord would have it, our readings demonstrate how our God deals with pride, the opposite of humility.

The following are three illuminating stories of pride:

1. There is a fable of two ducks and a frog who lived together happily in a farm pond. The three were the best of friends. When the hot, dry days of August and September came, however, their pond began to shrink, and it soon became evident they would have to move. This was no problem for the ducks, who could easily fly to another, bigger pond, but the frog was out of luck. One of them developed the bright idea to put a stick in the bill of each duck that the frog could hang onto with his mouth as they flew to another pond. The plan worked well, so well, in fact, that–as they were flying along–a farmer looked up in admiration and mused, “Well, isn’t that a clever idea! I wonder who thought of it?” The frog said, “I did….” Poor frog! Taking credit for the idea led to his death! If he’d kept his mouth shut, he might have survived.

2. During the Battle of the Wilderness in the Civil War, Union general John Sedgwick was inspecting his troops. At one point he came to a parapet in the fort, over which he gazed out in the direction of the enemy. His officers suggested that this was unwise and perhaps he ought to duck while visible to the enemy. “Nonsense,” snapped the general. “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist–.” A moment later Sedgwick fell to the ground, fatally wounded. This General was arrogant. His prideful dismissal of his subordinates’ wisdom cost him his life.

3. Finally, A young woman asked for an appointment with her pastor to talk with him about a habitual sin about which she was worried. When she saw him, she said, “Pastor, I have become aware of a sin in my life which I cannot control. Every time I am at church I begin to look around at the other women, and I realize that I am the prettiest one in the whole congregation. None of the others can compare with my beauty. What can I do about this sin?” The pastor replied, “Mary, that’s not a sin, why that’s just a mistake!” The young woman had developed “the big head” about her looks. She was blinded by her pride and failed to consider that she might not have been, as they say, “all that.”

Some well-known proverbs reveal to us what God thinks of our pride:

1. Proverbs 16:18 Pride goes before destruction [certainly true of the frog and the general], a haughty spirit before a fall [true of the young woman].

2. Proverbs 19:23 A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit [a humble man] gains honor.

3. Isaiah 25:11 Speaking of one of Israel’s enemies, the prophet announces, God will bring down their pride despite the cleverness of their hands.

Our Scripture passages today reveal more about how God responds to the proud (and to the humble):

A. Our Old Testament reading, 2 Samuel 6:1-23, describes King David’s two attempts to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Back in 1 Samuel 5, we learned that the Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant. This was a trunk-sized wooden box, made of acacia wood, and covered with gold. It is said to have been a foreshadowing of Christ. Its wood represented Jesus’ humanity; its gold, His divinity. Thus, the box signified God’s earthly throne or reign and His presence with His people (Immanuel, God with us). So when the Philistines captured it, they thought they had control over Israel’s God and thus over Israel.

But God had other ideas. When the Philistines put the Ark in the temple they had built to their god, Dagon, they were shocked to discover the first morning thereafter that the stature of Dagon had fallen on its face before the Ark. They set Dagon back upright only to discove, on the 2nd morning, that the idol had again fallen before the Ark, this time with its head and hands broken off. God was signifying to them that their idol was witless and powerless before Him.

Next, they tried placing the box in different Philistine cities. But each time, the citizens there broke out in a plague characterized by gross tumors all over the body; and the city was overrun by a horde of rats. Totally freaked out, these citizens would then rush the Ark to another city. In each of the 5 major Philistine cities, the same thing happened. Finally, the Philistines decided it was dangerous for them to hold onto the Hebrew “God-in-the-box.” Respectfully, they placed the box on a cart and let it loose. The cows pulling the Ark “miraculously” traveled back to Israel. Interestingly, the Philistines were not killed for the handling the Ark, due to their ignorance of Torah.

This is where we find ourselves in today’s passage King David wants to bring the Ark to Mt. Zion (highest point of Jerusalem, but with no Temple as yet). So, with all the best of intentions, he takes 30,000 men, 7 choirs, an orchestra and priests, and goes to retrieve the Ark. Obviously, he made of this a big deal. David recognizes that he reigns at the pleasure of God Himself. His government is less a monarchy than a theocracy, with God at the top. Thus, bringing the Ark to Jerusalem would indicate that the Lord was sovereign over both David and all the people.

Again, let’s remember that David’s intentions were the best.

But the way he went about it infuriated God. With our God, the end never justifies the means. The Ark had settled on the property of a man named Abinadab. King David brought a new cart and had Abinadab’s sons, Uzzzah and Ahio, guide the oxen. But, when it looked like ruts in the road might cause the Ark to slide off the cart, Uzzah put his hands on it and was killed…YIKES! Everyone was shocked! Their joyous worship immediately ceased! David is stunned and becomes angry at God. No doubt he experienced colossal embarrassment and humiliation. But he also lacked understanding: Just because he is king doesn’t give him license to approach God any old way! The Lord wants him to realize and model reverence to God the way God wants to be reverenced.

In his wounded pride, King David withdraws and sulks. The procession leaves the Ark at the farm of Obed-Edom—for 3 months–and retreats to Jerusalem. Thankfully, the king humbles himself and studies Scripture to learn from Torah how God desires His Ark to be approached. Maybe David reread Numbers 4:15 in which God gives His specific instructions re how to carry His Ark After Aaron and his sons [the high priest and priests at the time of the Exodus] have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites [Cohans] are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. Levites from the family of Kohan were to carry it. They were not to lay their hands on it, but to place poles through the rings on is corners, and carry those poles on their shoulders. God is not harsh, He is HOLY! There are right and wrong ways to approach Him. In other words, for the Israelites, ignorance of the Law is no excuse.

Notice, David pouts for a while, but he does not turn from God when he doesn’t understand His actions—he doesn’t let his pride get in the way of his relationship with the Lord. Instead, he humbles himself and tries to understand the Lord. So, after 3 months, David goes back to get the Ark. Notice what he does differently: He had the Ark carried as God required. After 6 steps, he had the procession stop and make an offering for their sins. He admitted his sin and the sins of the people. Hebrews 9:19-22 tells us that all true worship of God is predicated on sacrifice: David sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. (But we have Jesus, the once and for all perfect sacrifice for our sins…no more animal sacrifices, Praise God!) Then King David lead the procession, worshipping God with total abandon. Our psalm appointed for today was written by David to celebrate bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. By dancing, without his royal robes, He was showing his people that even their king humbled himself before the Lord.

However, his wife, Michal (Saul’s daughter), was scandalized!

Filled with pride, she judged her husband‘s behavior as demeaning and vulgar. But David would not be deterred, saying, (v.21) I will celebrate before the Lord. He apparently then separated himself from her, keeping her in the palace but never again visiting her. She died childless, an indication to the Hebrews of having not been blessed by God.

B. Let’s also consider the cost of pride in today’s Gospel, Mark 6:14-29. Herod Antipas, a Roman puppet and not a true believer, is serving as ruler of Judea. Believing enough to seek and dabble in religion, but not enough to commit or change the way he lives, he is respectful of, maybe even intimidated by, John the Baptist. His wife, Herodias, hates John the Baptist because he has publicly denounced them both as adulterers; and he has also called them to repent of their moral and leadership failures. Some scholars believe Herod may have had JtB arrested to protect him from his Herodias’ vengeance.

Nevertheless, she gets a chance to gain revenge when Herod makes a rash promise to her dancing daughter, the alluring Salome. Herod is so pleased with her performance that he offers her whatever she wants, up to ½ his kingdom. What a foolish boast! At Herodias’ advice, she asks for the head of JtB. What a senseless jam Herod has put himself in! He has sought to protect John from Herodias; but, if he rescinds his boast to Salome, he stands to lose face before his guests. In the choice between righteousness humility and foolish pride, he chooses pride. JtB is immediately beheaded,

Salome is later married off to Herod’s brother, her uncle—YUCK! This could have been quite the punishment. Finally, the Romans eventually banish Herodias and Herod to Gaul, the primitive outer-beyond of those times.

So what is our Lord telling us about pride through these Biblical folks? We want to avoid the dangers of pride because pride is costly. At best, it costs you your reputation, your influence, your marriage.

At worst, it can cost you your life. Ben Franklin, in his autobiography wrote, “There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”

We also want to recognize when we are acting out of pride, then apologize to God and humble ourselves. When we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, He will lift us up (James 4:10).

Honestly, most of us need the assistance, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to overcome our pride. But remember, King David got it and so can we!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams