Cooking the Books

Pastor Sherry’s message for 9/18/2022

Scriptures: Jer 8:18-9:1; Ps 79:1-9; 1 Tim 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

Remember “Cliff Notes”? Back in the day before computers and the internet, if you were assigned a novel you dreaded to read—like Silas Marner or Moby Dick, you could get one of these little black and yellow booklets and learn what you needed to from them. No telling how many people have successfully made it through high school or college English classes by consulting Cliff Notes. They would reveal to you the themes and subthemes, what the major characters represented (if they were symbolic), the setting, the tone and the genre of the book, etc.–enough so that you could pass a test on the required reading without really reading it. I guess the internet has put Cliff Notes out of business.

Nevertheless, today—since I want to focus on the Gospel lesson–I am going to begin by giving you the Cliff Notes version of our other three readings. They are too valuable to skip over.


A. In Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, the prophet is actually weeping over what the Lord has told him will be the capture and deportation of Judah. The prophet knows his apostate countrymen and women will wonder why Jerusalem is sacked and the Temple destroyed. They believed God would never allow this to happen, no matter their behavior. They missed that our God does not revere buildings. He loves the people who worship Him inside the buildings. So, because they no longer believe in God, they will not understand they are being punished for their idolatry and faithlessness.

Both due to their spiritual adultery—despite all his warnings to the contrary–and due to his identification with their distress, Jeremiah grieves over them.

B. Asaph, the author of Psalm 79, is aware that God has used the Babylonians to punish His wayward Judean Chosen People. He begs God to forgive and restore the nation. He also asks God to bring judgment against Babylon, a pagan nation (v.6) …pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you. How ironic that God often uses non-believing nations to discipline His chosen (Pagan Assyrians carted off the Northern Kingdom in 722BC, for example.) Finally, in verse 9, he begs God to …help us Oh God our Savior, for the glory of Your name.

C. Paul advises Timothy (and us) to pray for national leaders, whether we like them or not. YIKES! We have been praying weekly that corrupt and dishonest leaders be replaced by ethical, God-loving ones; but I confess I have been remiss in praying for the folks in that first category. OOPS! Paul says we are to do so in order that the Gospel continues to spread into the world; and because God does not wish for anyone to perish. Remember John 3:16 for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in His shall not perish but have eternal life. God loves everyone, unconditionally. But the gift of eternal life is conditioned on believing in Jesus.

Much more could be made about all three of these passages, but I have given you the gist, the Cliff Notes version.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the Gospel lesson assigned for today, Luke 16:1-13, the Parable of the Crooked Steward. It directly follows the parable of the Prodigal Son. Remember how the younger son asked for his inheritance early and squandered it all? Well, this crooked steward—we would probably call him a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) today—has mismanaged his boss’ accounts, and misappropriated his boss’ profits.

We’ve heard of this happening all too often, haven’t we (the Enron scandal and the housing debacle of 2008, etc.)?

The story is told of a man who was interviewing candidates for an accounting job… When the first man came in, the interviewer asked, “OK, what’s two plus two?” The candidate replied, “Four,” and the interview was over. Same thing happened with the next man. But the third candidate, when asked the same question, stood up and locked the door. He closed the blinds, then leaned over the desk and asked, “How much do you want it to be?”

(Borrowed from a sermon by Rev. Timothy Archer, “Bad Books, Good Lessons,” Feb. 15, 2004).

I worked on my doctorate at Florida State University from 1986-1989. In my final year, I saw student clients at the university’s counseling students. Among them were several accounting majors from the College of Business—one of the most difficult majors at FSU at that time. Now this was in the days prior to internet searches, and students were often required to search out and read important research articles in professional journals. I asked one of the librarians then how many journals the library subscribed to and was told 40,000. These monthly or quarterly scholarly works were bound into volumes by year and you had to physically go to the stacks and search them out. Because accounting was such a competitive major, some students–to thwart their student rivals–would use razor blades to remove the relevant articles from the library’s reserved sources. I remember thinking at the time that (a) I would not want one of the guilty parties to be my accountant; and (b) why we would wonder that some professionals have no integrity.

But back to our parable: The boss gets wind of the fact that the CFO has “cooked the books” and cans him. Interestingly, he isn’t immediately escorted out of his office, with his parking pass confiscated and his computer codes changed. Instead, the boss tells him to prepare for a financial audit. The crook knows his fraudulent practices will soon be uncovered.

So, what’s the Crooked CFO to do? He shrewdly decides he needs to convince those who owe the boss money that he is on their side. They may not even be aware he is crook. Nevertheless, he offers to discount what they owe the company. Perhaps he had inflated what they owed to begin with (pocketing the difference), but he now reduces one guy’s bill by 50%, and another’s by 20%. Every bit helps, right? Wouldn’t we all love to have someone cut our grocery bill by 50% or our gas bill by 20%? He seems to think these fellows will remember him kindly once the boss has sacked him. They might hire him—not as an accountant it is to be hoped–so that he doesn’t have to dig ditches or wave traffic around road construction sites.

Now Jesus surprisingly commends the dude! Don’t you want to say to Jesus, “But Lord, he’s a crook!” However, Jesus isn’t commending him for being dishonest. This is a parable of contrast, like the how much more stories Jesus tells:

1.) If the unjust judge will give a powerless widow woman justice, how much more will the Lord do?

2.) If a son asks for an egg, will his earthly father give him a scorpion? How much more then will his heavenly father provide?

3.) If the grouchy neighbor will give his friend bread at midnight, how much more generously will our heavenly father respond?

4.) If the earthly father celebrates his prodigal son’s return, how much will our heavenly father celebrate our return to Him?

Jesus commends the guy—not for being a shyster but for investing in relationships (with those who owe the boss) instead of monetary greed. We don’t know if he truly underwent a lasting attitude adjustment. But consider what William Barclay has to say about him in his commentary:

“If only the Christian was as eager and ingenious in his attempt to attain goodness as the man of the world is in his attempt to attain money and comfort, he would be a much better man.”

(William Barclay. The Gospel of Luke. The Daily Bible Study Series, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975, p. 208.)

Our God wants us to passionately pursue doing the right thing toward others. Jesus also commends the guy for trusting in the merciful nature of his boss. Remember, the Prodigal Son’s trust in his father’s grace and mercy compelled him to return home. Jesus is following up that parable by demonstrating that we can trust in our God’s compassion for us.

Martin Luther once wrote, That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself, I say, is really your God. Others have suggested we need only review our bank account expenditures to see what we value most. We need to be mindful of loving God above all things, even money! Like this shyster steward–once he knew he was in trouble–we need to invest more in relationships with others than in lining our own pockets, cooking someone’s books, or taking care of ourselves first, and maybe only.

Jesus goes on to say that we cannot serve God and money! He never said no one could become wealthy. You can clearly be a Christian and make money. I once sat on a plane next to a guy from a well-known, Christian financial ministry. He told me that making money is a gift from God. It is a gift that most people lack. He has had rich men approach him, desiring to leave off making money to become a member of his ministry. He said he tells them to keep on making money, since it is such a rare gift, but plough the excess into ministries for others. Do you remember Rick Warren’s books, The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church (2002)? Pastor Warren made millions on these two books. He asked God what to do with the proceeds. He did not trade in his old car for a Mercedes or a Lexus; he did not buy a new, bigger house; instead, he told his church to no longer pay him a salary, kept a small portion for his family’s needs, and put the rest into 5 ministries: One for breast cancer research (his wife had breast cancer); one for aids research; and 3 others dedicated to raising up Christian leaders in Africa. So you see, you can make money but you cannot let a love for money take the place of God in your life.

Additionally Jesus implied that if we are faithful stewards of what He gives us, He will give us more. It’s a paradox, isn’t it? If we don’t think God is very generous towards us, we may want to consider how generous we are toward Him and towards others. If we want God to be generous toward us, we must be generous toward others as well. Amen!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

True Disciples

Pastor Sherry’s message for September 4, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 18:1-11; Ps 139:1-18; Philemon 1-21; Lk 14:25-33

Back in the 1980’s, when I was first coming into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I looked to a set of commentaries to help me understand the New Testament. I had been asked to lead a women’s Bible Study and knew I needed help with understanding the difficult passages. My parish priest (I was an Episcopalian at the time) suggested I consult William Barclay’s commentaries. Rev. Dr. William Barkley, was a minister in the Church of Scotland and lived from 1907-1978. At that time, his volumes were paperback books with distinctive blue, green, or pink covers, each one explaining a given book of the Bible. Since I knew next to nothing—and my church had the whole set—I was grateful to delve into them.

Over time, however—and as my faith deepened—I began to see some problems. First, Barclay didn’t believe in the miracles of Jesus and, as a student of the Enlightenment, attempted to explain them away with science. In my heart of hearts, I knew this couldn’t be. The Gospel of Mark certifies that Jesus had power over nature, including the laws of nature; the supernatural, including angels and demons; and both physical illness and mental infirmity. Even more impressive, He had the authority to forgive sins and to bring dead people back to life. I loved Barclay’s wisdom and knowledge, but I began to believe his concept of God was too limited. I knew then (and now) that I wanted a God who is powerful enough to alter the very laws of nature that He has put into place. I wanted a God who can truly do …immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)—and we have Him!

Secondly, I also discovered Barclay must have been what is known as a dispensationalist. These folks believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were given for a specific era, which ended before our time; that is, the miraculous works Jesus and the apostles did (healing, raising people from the dead, etc.) ended upon their deaths. But I have witnessed and experienced miracles of healing and perhaps you have too—these gifts are not passé.

Nevertheless, I would never suggest we dismiss all that Barclay had to say. Among many wise things he wrote, I believe his distinction between being a disciple and a follower of Christ is both profound and accurate:

It is possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple: to be a camp follower without being a soldier of the king; to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one’s weight. Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, ‘So and so tells me that he was one of your students.’ The teacher answered devastatingly, ‘He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.’ There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. It is one of the supreme handicaps of the Church that in the Church there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples.

(Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.162.)

I believe this is the consistent message of our Scripture passages today. All four lessons assigned for today are variations on a common theme: True Discipleship.

A. Our OT lesson is from Jeremiah (18:1-11). God has the prophet draw Judah’s attention to the work of a potter. Then, as now, potters worked moist clay on a wheel. As the wheel spun, the potter would use his hands to shape the clay into a bowl or pot to then be fired/hardened in a kiln. The image of a potter with wet clay is a metaphor for God’s relationship with them then and with us now. If the clay (us) is malleable, then the potter (God) can mold and shape according to His plan.

The power of the Potter is absolute! He has a plan/purpose as He works in and with us. Interestingly, He can rework pots or vessels that turn out wrong or are flawed. If we allow Him to do so, He has the power to shape us into vessels of honor. What a wonderful thought! But, this requires us to be totally cooperative and totally committed. Christ’s disciples say “yes” to this process. Barclay would suggest that distant Christ-followers, however, tend to walk their own way, paying little attention to what Jesus might desire of them daily.

A true disciple, then seeks out and cooperates with the will of our Potter.

B. Psalm 139:1-18 gives us a perfect rationale for surrendering our will to that of our Lord. In verses 1-4 He has searched us and He knows us. He knows who we are. He knows our thoughts. He knows what we intend to say before we say it. He knows our behavior too—what we are up to. Additionally, in verses 5-11, we learn there is nowhere that we can run to escape Him or His knowledge of us. He is omniscient, and also omnipresent. Where-ever we may go, He will be there too. He is the “with us” God, Immanuel. And, in verses 13-16, the psalmist declares: He made us (knit me [us] together in my [our] mother’s womb). He thought each one of us up and called us into being, regardless of what our parents planned. He ordained how long we would live. And He ordained a plan and a purpose for each of us.

This psalm assures us that God knows us, is with us, and has a plan and purpose for each one of us. Doesn’t it just make so much sense for us to want to fall into step with God’s plan? Those of us who have ignored God’s plan for our lives, and walked our own way, know from hard experience that pathway leads to turmoil and trouble. Again, you know you are a disciple—not just a follower—when you surrender to God’s plans for your life.

C. Philemon is such a beautiful little book! Paul is in prison, waiting to be executed, but he takes the time to write a dear friend in Christ. Paul had disciple Philemon, who now has a house-church meeting in his home. Paul, as Philemon’s mentor, could have demanded that he allow Onesimus, Philemon’s former slave, to remain free. But instead, Paul blesses him and entreats him to accept Onesimus back as a freed man. He is asking Philemon—out of love for Paul and as a disciple of Christ—to be obedient to Jesus. Scholars speculate that the population of the Roman Empire was about 120,000; 60,000 of those were slaves. Slavery was very common then. As people were conquered, they were enslaved. Nevertheless, Jesus had said in John 8:36: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Jesus would want Philemon to allow Onesimus to remain free, as the former slave is now his brother-in-Christ. This is no longer an economic or a political issue, but a moral and a spiritual one. True disciples do not hold on to the things of this world, but rather seek to please the Sovereign King of this world.

D. Finally, Jesus, in today’s Gospel lesson (Luke14:25-33) draws our attention to the cost of discipleship. Believers or followers should think ahead of committing themselves to being disciples, as the cost is high.

Nothing is to come before Jesus in our hearts–not spouses, children, parents, siblings, or self. Jesus is stating a strong contrast for effect. He does not really mean we have to hate these relationships. There is a place for them in our lives; but all of them should take a distant back seat to Jesus.

Just as a builder considers his/her resources before planning construction, and just as a king considers his resources before engaging in battle, so too must we estimate or count the cost. My son is a structural engineer in business by himself. He is now reconfiguring what he calls “boomerang” plans. He had designed, signed and sealed the plans, but the contractor then complained that he/she could not locate the materials called for—due to supply chain issues–or that the materials specified—due to inflation—were no longer financially feasible. The plans were then returned for my son to redesign with cheaper or more readily available materials substituted for the original ones. Back in Jesus’ day, builders tended to know the cost of wood and bricks for home building. But, even so, a home owner would need to estimate the cost of construction and have the money and building materials at hand before beginning a building project.

The point is, if you can’t commit all, then remain a believer, a follower.

But being Christ’s disciple, a true disciple, means being willing to give all of one’s self to the effort, including carrying a cross.

True disciples, then,

(1.) Allow God to mold and shape us.

(2.) Understand that since God made us, knows us, and knows all things, it makes good sense to cooperate with His plan for our lives.

(3.) Learn to “let go and let God”; or to honor God’s will over our own.

(4.) Have thought through the potential cost, and then commit to Christ no matter what.

Are we willing to do these things? Consider the following old illustration:

A hog and a hen sharing the same barnyard heard about a church’s program to feed the hungry. The hog and the hen discussed how they could help. The hen said, “I’ve got it! We’ll provide bacon and eggs for the church to feed the hungry.” The hog thought about the suggestion and said, “There’s one problem with your bacon and eggs solution. For you, it only requires a contribution, but from me, it will mean total commitment!” That’s the cost of true discipleship. (Source unknown.)

Let’s pray: Lord, you are asking of us a difficult thing. We want to be more than just Christ-followers or believers in Jesus. We desire to be Jesus’ disciples. Give us the grace and the courage to do so. Help us to trust in You and to let go our control over our lives and give it to You. We pray this in the precious and efficacious name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Becoming a Mature Follower of Christ

Pastor Sherry’s Message for 7/24/2022

Scriptures: Hosea 1:2-10; Ps 85; Colossians 3:1-11; Lk 11:1-13

As I looked through my former sermons this week, I discovered that I had preached on the Hosea passage in 2016, and on Luke 11 in 2019. So, I believed the Lord was calling me to tackle the Epistle lesson with you today. It wasn’t until the passage was read this morning that I realized I had messed up. The passage appointed for today was Colossians 2:6-19. I am a highly intuitive person, focused on the “Big Picture” and not much given to details, so I mistakenly addressed the passage appointed for next Sunday, Colossians 3:1-11. I apologize. Perhaps the Lord meant for someone to focus on chapter 3 instead of the last half of chapter 2 today.

Colossians is one of Paul’s 4 pastoral letters (including Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) written from prison in Ephesus.

Apparently, Paul never met in person with the church in Colosse (75-100 mi east of Ephesus). It had instead been planted by a disciple of his named Epaphrus. We could say that Paul was like a spiritual grandfather to this church.

His focus in this letter is becoming a mature believer in Christ. Many folks in Colosse had become as sick of the immoral excesses of paganism as we have of what we see/hear happening in DC, NYC, LA, Chicago, etc. They were initially attracted to the high ethical standards offered by the Jewish faith. They looked at the Torah and were impressed with laws that said don’t do this or that, don’t taste this or that, or don’t handle this or that.

They saw these laws as a means of escaping the soul-killing, vapid, immoral world of paganism. It was as though they thought, Maybe keeping these rules will help us live a better life; and Perhaps keeping these rules will help us improve our spiritual lives.

But Paul tells them this way of thinking is an illusion, a dead-end. First of all, none of us can keep these rules perfectly. So we end up trading what Bishop. N.T. Wright calls, “a worldly self-indulgence of a sensual kind for a worldly self-indulgence of a spiritual kind” (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, N.T. Wright, Westminister John Knox Press, 2002, p.174.)

We reduce our faith to keeping a set of earthly rules, and avoid developing the deep relationship God desires with us. Additionally, contrary to popular thought, rule-keeping doesn’t lead to holiness. Holiness requires that we die to self. Rule-keeping keeps our focus on ourselves. Holiness requires that we die to self and are raised to live for God. The Good News is that by being in Christ, we have the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spirit—if we ask for it—to help us live out our lives at a higher moral standard. It’s not a matter of trying harder in our own strength, but rather of cooperating with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul admonishes us to (verses 1-2) Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. And in verse 5, he adds Put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. In verses 8-9, he adds to the list of behaviors to avoid, including anger, rage, wickedness, blasphemy, dirty talk, and lying. This is like putting aside an old set of tattered and soiled clothes and taking up and putting on your very best. In the 1st century church, folks being baptized showed up in their old clothes, were immersed in the waters of baptism, and then dressed in new, white garments, symbolizing their new status as followers of Christ Jesus.

If it’s not just rule-keeping, how do we proceed? We have to know what needs to be changed in order to cooperate with changing it.

Let’s look first at the main categories of sins that Paul lists here:

1. Sexual misbehavior–This one is tough because our culture today—like that of ancient Corinth or Colosse, is overly sexualized. Much of American advertising makes sexual appeals. It doesn’t take too many clicks on the internet before you stumble onto pornographic images. (I worry about what our children are being exposed to at too young an age.) But Paul means everything from sexual intercourse outside of marriage (fornication), to adultery, and even including sexual fantasies. Paul calls these behaviors idolatry because, as in all pagan worship, they require that you give your allegiance to something of this world rather than to our holy and supernatural Trinitarian God.

2. The 2nd category Paul cites are sins involving unedifying speech. This includes everything from angry, malicious speech to gossip, slander, and lying. Wouldn’t Paul have a fit over the way folks lie in Washington DC? When I taught Psychology at the community college in Gainesville, I heard my students punctuate their sentences with the “f” word. Reminding them that they were there to get a higher education, I challenged them to try to elevate their vocabulary by replacing that word with something more dignified. To my delight, they got the concept and did cuss much less in class.

Both sexual and verbal sins can tear a community apart. Years ago, before I went to seminary, I had a pastor with whom I was very close. He was like an older brother in the Lord. We met about once a month for breakfast, to talk over the Bible study I was leading and other leadership concerns of our church. I later discovered he had been fired by our bishop for having an affair with another woman in our congregation. He and I had met just the day before this took place. He had told me he had 3 things to tell me, but ran out of time to tell me the last. When I learned what had happened, I figured he was too ashamed to confess he had compromised his calling. His family was humiliated. We had a booming college ministry at the time. They were so disappointed in him that they said we were all hypocrites and left the church. Other adults left as well, and for the same reason. Our community was hurt by this one man’s sexual sin.

Paul presents the problem (these two very popular sin-groups) and their solution. In verse 10, he writes [since you have put on your new self]…which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator…. Remember back to the 80’s and 90’s when people would ask, WWJD? What would Jesus do? It was a great slogan because it reminded us to stop and think before acting/speaking. It encouraged us to think about how Jesus might view our actions or our speech. Would He say, Well done, good and faithful servant? Or would He want us to, Go and sin no more? Again, as Bishop N.T. Wright says, “Being a Christian means learning to think harder, not to leave your brain behind in the quest for new experiences. Thinking straight and knowing the truth are part of what it means to be a truly human being, the sort of human being the gospel is meant to create. (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, pp. 179-180.) We think harder because we are not just considering what we want to do, but also what the Lord would desire of us. We know the truth because Scripture reveals it. Immoral behavior and malicious speech may feel good at first, but the truth is that they leave a bad aftertaste. Our consciences bother us. Then the Holy Spirit compels us to make amends, which humble and perhaps embarrass us further. In the long run, it is simply easier for us to train ourselves to avoid the behaviors Paul lists.

This is another way of saying we are growing in spiritual maturity. Consider these definitions of Christian maturity:

(1) Chuck Swindoll—One of the marks of maturity is the ability to disagree without becoming disagreeable.

(2) Fred Cook—Maturity is the ability to do a job whether supervised or not; finish it once started; carry money without spending it; and …bear an injustice without wanting to get even. If Cook is correct, his definition is quite an indictment of our current culture, isn’t it? We are trying to get along with a huge number of spiritually immature persons.

(3) John McNaughton—Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself.

(4) Anonymous—Maturity is moving from a soft skin-tough heart to a tough skin-soft heart (This one requires some pondering).

When we are followers of Jesus Christ, trying to think like Jesus and live in ways that please Him, we might come to say like John Newton🡪 I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was, and I can say with the great apostle, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” (Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.370.)

The Apostle Paul wanted the Colossian Church—and us—to grow in spiritual maturity. This is not an easy task. It involves self-denial. It can and often does involve pain. The devotional, Today in the Word, printed a story years ago (1987) about how a mother eagle encourages her chicks to leave the nest:

Though many of us have seen pictures of a huge eagle’s nest high in the branches of a tree or in the crag of a cliff, few of us have gotten a glimpse inside. When a mother eagle builds her nest she starts with thorns, broken branches, sharp rocks, and a number of other items that seem entirely unsuitable for the project. But then she lines the nest with a thick padding of wool, feathers, and fur from animals she has killed, making it soft and comfortable for the eggs. By the time the growing birds reach flying age, the comfort of the nest and the luxury of free meals make them quite reluctant to leave. That’s when the mother eagle begins “stirring up the nest.” With her strong talons she begins pulling up the thick carpet of fur and feathers, bringing the sharp rocks and branches to the surface. As more of the bedding gets plucked up, the nest becomes more uncomfortable for the young eagles. Eventually, this and other urgings prompt the growing eagles to leave their once-comfortable abode and move on to more mature behavior.

It’s not easy to mature spiritually, but we can attain it—or at least move toward it—by cooperating with the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Like the mother eagle, He can and does comfort us when we are afflicted (hungry, lonely, tired, etc); but also like her, He can and does afflict us when we get too comfortable. This side of heaven, we don’t attain perfection. Nevertheless, we want to be like John Newton, the former captain of a British slave ship, who repented, came to Christ, and was ordained. He is also the one who wrote the hymn, “Amazing Grace”. Remember he said, I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was…. Hopefully, day by day, we are making progress in becoming more and more like Christ Jesus.

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

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Watchman’s Challenge

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 17, 2022

Scriptures: Amos 8:1-12; Ps 52; Col 1:15-28; Lk 10:38-42

Last week, I encouraged us to become like “watchmen” on the walls surrounding our country. By this I meant “Prayer Warriors” for the USA. We looked at Amos, chapter 7, and recognized how America—like ancient Israel—is out of alignment with the Lord. Amos’ image, given to him by God, was that of a plumb line. It is a simple device (a string with a weight at the end will do) to help insure a straight vertical line for a wall, or for hanging wallpaper. I’ve seen cabinet installers use laser beams to ensure they set the cabinets in straight; the laser is a new form of plumb line.) The prophet was telling the Northern Kingdom that they were out of plumb with God. Citing a number of examples, we could see where our country, too, is currently out of plumb with God.

This week, in Amos 8:1-12, God gives His prophet the image of ripe fruit. Ripe fruit is fruit taken at its peak. Prior to ripening, it is too sour or too hard to eat. By the same token, you don’t want to let ripe fruit sit around for very long. It gets mushy, brown, or soggy—it spoils; it also attracts fruit flies. God is saying to Israel that “the time is ripe” for them.

Either they change their sinful ways and return to sincere worship of God; or God will no longer spare them. This was God’s final image of warning to them in the book of Amos.

Again, I think this is a very relevant message for us in America today. Like with the Northern Kingdom, many Americans don’t worship the One, True God anymore. And some who do are only going through the motions: God condemned the Israelites for thinking about their businesses while at worship. What do we think about while here in church together? Are we focused on the Lord, or on what we’ll have for lunch after? What we might do later?

The Israelites were infamous at that time for corrupt business practices: Skimping on the quantity—providing less of what was wanted for the same or a larger price; inflating the price; cheating with dishonest scales (and other measures); and buying the poor (with silver or for a pair of sandals.) We tend not to think of ourselves as buying the poor, but what about engaging in sex trafficking, buying the sexual use of someone’s body. And while we no longer have debtors’ prisons, we do have a staggering number of homeless persons who cannot afford to live in today’s economy. It appears as though a surprising number of folks in America don’t realize that God sees all and knows all, and intends to hold them (us) accountable. In vv.7-10, God reminds Israel (and us) The Lord has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.” The Pride of Jacob is a poetic name for the yet to come Jesus (as predicted by Amos around 750 BC). God is swearing by His Son, Jesus, that He will not forget their corrupt deeds (He sees and remembers all evil acts). If the Father makes a vow based on His Son, is there any question that He means to abide by it? No!

I have heard people joke about going to hell: they say they intend to party with all their friends who they think will be there too. YIKES! This is no joking matter! Humans in hell will not be partying! They will be eternally separated from God, as well as from any of their godly friends and relatives. Worse yet, they will experience unending, everlasting torment at the hand of demons who hate God and God’s people. This is not something to aspire to, even glibly.

Amos ends the passage with predictions of what is to come in the end times (the 7 year Great Tribulation): (1) There will be massive earthquakes. (2) Sunlight will be limited to ½ a day. (3) Those who rejoice now will be weeping then, in mourning, wishing they had chosen to follow Jesus while there was yet time. (4) And there will be a famine of hearing God’s Word.

Back then, God sent no more prophets, after Malachi, to declare His word for the 400 years remaining before Jesus’ birth and the appearance of John the Baptist. It appears that even now the Lord has lifted His hand of protection from us, so that we are already experiencing …an increase of evil (as predicted by Jesus in Matthew 24:12).

If this alarms you, be at peace as our remaining Scriptures today are all very encouraging.

A. Our Psalm 52 describes King David’s fearless confidence in God when he was attacked by an arrogant and wicked enemy king. In vv.1-4, he declares there is no reason for evil ones to boast as God will bring them down. John Lawrence, in his book Down to Earth, reports how a city of wicked and sacrilegious people dared God to show Himself:

“On December 25, 1908—Jesus’ Birthday–a newspaper published in Messina, Sicily, printed a parody against God, daring Him to make Himself known by sending an earthquake. Three days later, on December 28, the city and its surrounding district was devastated by a terrible quake that killed 84,000 people.” (Cited in Today in the Word, October, 1997, p. 25). This foolish city went too far. They incurred the wrath of God. We can only hope that God separated out the scoffers and blasphemers for judgment and spared the righteous. At any rate, He clearly remembered their arrogance and their unbelief.

King David goes on to assert (vv.6-7) that the righteous will be ultimately vindicated–which David was, again and again. And those of us who love Jesus will be too. Verses 8-9 conclude with David asserting that he will trust in the Lord—an encouragement for us to do likewise.

B. In Colossians 1:15-28, Paul makes his case for the supremacy of Christ. Why should the believer trust in Jesus? Because Jesus…(1) created all things; (2) is set apart from and is superior to all created things; (3) holds all of creation together (Science has discovered that all human and animal connective tissue has at its heart a substance called lamina. This substance appears in cell bodies in it the shape of a cross. Literally, the Cross of Christ holds our bodies together. (4) He is the head of His body, the Church; and (5) because God had Jesus reconcile all things to the Father. (6) Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Father now looks at those of us who love His Son through the eyes of Christ. He forgives us our failings. He offers us grace, love, and mercy.

C. Our Gospel lesson (Luke 10:38-42) records Jesus’ interactions with Mary and Martha. God bless her, Martha is focused on the task of creating a meal for our Lord. Mary, her sister, has abandoned the task to deepen her relationship with Jesus. Jesus reassures Martha that she is not to worry, while affirming Mary’s focus on Him and His teaching. This is a lesson for each of us, too, isn’t it? We don’t want to be invested in doing things for God without spending time investing in our relationship with Him daily.

God’s judgment is coming for America, just as it did for ancient Israel. But we still have time to get right with our Lord: First, we can trust in Him…as a God who protects and defends those who love Him; because of Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross for our sakes; and because He desires a deep relationship with each one of us.

Last week, I encouraged us to stand as watchmen (and watchwomen), praying daily for our country to turn back to God.

This week, I challenge us to pray daily for America. We want to do this because we love the USA. We want to do this because prayer– and the ballot box–are the only means we have for encouraging a national return to Christ. Consider this story from Stuart Strachan, Jr., about Babe Ruth, the great professional baseball player from 1914—1935. For those not familiar with “the Babe,” he hit 714 home runs in his career, and was responsible for bringing another 2, 214 runners in to score. He also contributed to a phenomenal 12 World’s Series wins:

Most of us have heard of Babe Ruth, but have you ever heard of Babe Pinelli? Pinelli was an umpire in Major League Baseball who once called The Great Bambino (Ruth) out on strikes. When the crowd began booing in disapproval of the call, Babe turned to the umpire and said “There’s 40,000 people here who know that the last pitch was a ball.” The coaches and players braced for a swift ejection, but instead, Pinelli responded coolly, “Maybe so, Babe, but mine is the only opinion that counts.”

In life it’s easy to get caught up in the opinions of others, but in the end, it’s not our scoffers or critics by whom we will be judged. The Only Opinion That Matters is God’s.

God may be ready to “lower the boom” on America. Whether His judgment comes tomorrow or 5 or 20 years from now, we should not be afraid. Instead, we are to be faithful until Christ returns. Instead, we need to function as praying watchmen as we wait and watch to see what God does.

©️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

God Hates Pride (Proverbs 16:18)

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 3, 2022

Scriptures: 2 Kgs 5:1-19; Ps 30; Galatians 6:1-16; Lk 10:1-20

The following is a true story. I shared this with you some years back, but it’s a good one that I think is worth another hearing:

A Granny-lady from Florida approached her car and was shocked to see two men sitting in it. She pulled her pistol out of her pocket-book, pointed it at them, and said, “I have a gun and I know how to use it! Get out of the car!” They immediately jumped out of the car and ran like mad! Relieved—and somewhat proud—she put her key in the ignition only to find it did not fit. Looking around in frustration, she then saw her own car several spaces away (You know how all silver or white SUV’s look the same!) Later, a booking Sargent at the local police station doubled over, laughing, as the 2 pale men reported a car-jacking by a “crazed, white-haired elderly woman, Caucasian, 5’ tall, wearing glasses, and carrying a large handgun. When questioned, the granny pleaded a “senior moment;” No charges were filed.

This is a funny story, isn’t it? It’s amusing precisely because it’s unexpected. The woman had to admit she was wrong—some find this very hard to do. The men were smart to remove themselves quickly. This is the kind of thing that their family and friends probably teased them about later. The lady was elderly. She was no doubt smaller and frailer than either one of them, but they wisely recognized her power differential. They were not too proud to run.

Our Old Testament and Gospel lessons today both demonstrate our Lord’s view of human pride. Let’s look at them together.

2 Kings 5:1-19 relates the story of Naaman, the Syrian general.

We begin in the year 852 BC. Israel and Syria (Aram) had been at war for most of that decade. At the time of this passage, they are enjoying an uneasy truce. Naaman was the very competent commander of the Syrian armies. He had the respect of his King, Ben Haddad II. He was viewed by those who knew him as an honorable man, an effective leader, and a valiant warrior. But he was also afflicted with leprosy. In Israel, he would have had to have quit the military to live in seclusion. Gentiles, however, did not tend to separate out those with skin diseases in those days. Did he actually have Hansen’s Disease, or what we today call “Leprosy?” Scholars are not sure. He may have had a chronic skin rash, like eczema or psoriasis, or even some sort of allergic reaction, like hives. Whatever the cause, he was dogged by this condition and apparently seemed eager to acquire a healing. He learns from his wife, who has a Hebrew slave girl, that there is a prophet in Israel, Elisha, to whom he could go to ask for his healing. So we have a proud, accomplished, but desperate man going along with the suggestion of a little slave girl.

His King gives him leave to go to Israel. He carries with him a letter saying words to the effect that, Here’s my general who comes in peace.…He also brings along a generous payment: 750# of silver; 150# of gold; and 10 sets of clothing. Relying on the usual diplomatic channels (go to the king 1st), he presents himself to the Joram, the King of Israel. Joram is Ahab’s and Jezebel’s son (he ruled 11 years, from 852-841BC. He was not as evil as his father and mother, but also not a true believer in God. King Joram freaks out when this very successful, powerful enemy warrior shows up! Joram, in his panic, forgets Elisha. He mistakenly believes Naaman expects him to heal him, saying Am I God? He is afraid his inability to effect a healing will become a reason to break off diplomatic relations and will precipitate a renewal of war. He tears his garments not in grief, but in frustration and despair. Elisha hears of the General’s visit (the Northern Kingdom was a small country).

Elisha chides the king (verse 8) Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know there is a prophet in Israel. Joram should have prayed, rather than freaking out! He should have called upon the prophet as God’s spokesperson.

In verse 9, Chariots blazing, Naaman arrives at Elisha’s like a rock star! He has the retinue, the diplomatic power, and the wealth of a famous person. He proudly expects to be treated quickly and effectively. But, God intends to heal him as well as to humble him: (1.) The prophet does not even come to greet him, or to offer the barest of hospitality—water, oil, a kiss of greeting; (2.) He instead sends him a message by a servant (v.10) Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed: The grand man feels disrespected! He was used to being accorded what we refer to today as “all due respect.” He was expecting some religious ceremony (verse 11) I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. And why should he wash in the piddley, muddy Jordan when there are cleaner, clearer, grander rivers in Damascus? He explodes into a fit of temper!

Notice that once again, a servant intervenes. Trusted underlings urge restraint and obedience: (verse 13) …if the prophet had said do some great thing, would you not have done it? So, in verse 14 he obediently and humbly washes 7 times in the Jordan and is cleansed/healed of his skin disease. Naaman then praises God (verse 15a) Now I know there is no God in all the world except in Israel. The great man has been humbled. He now has some new attitudes and has taken on some new behaviors.

His obedience, not the prophet’s ritual, had led to his healing. He was healed when he put aside his pride, his prejudice (against the Jordan), his preconceived notions (the prophet must perform some sort of ritual); and his pushback against simplicity. He was healed when he decided to trust in what his servants told him about the Hebrew God. He suddenly became so devoted to the God of the Hebrews that he carts back a wagon-load of Israelite soil to Syria. Many ancient peoples believed their gods were territorial, to be powerful only on their own soil. He does not yet know that the Hebrew God is God of all the earth, unlimited by country boundary-lines. And he promises that when he has to attend his king in Baal-worship, he will instead be praying in secret to the One True God. Naaman has been healed, humbled, and converted.

Our Gospel lesson today is from Luke 10:1-20 and it reveals a lesson similar to that of our passage from 2 Kings. 72 disciples are sent out in pairs to preach, teach, heal and deliver folks from demons. Jesus tells them to go where they are received (the way has been prepared); and to depend entirely on God for their provision. They come back rejoicing in their success, even over demons. There is a natural tendency to rejoice in our successes, isn’t there? But Jesus reminds them that they belong to God; that is, they are doing God’s work through the power of His Holy Spirit. We don’t want to get “the big head,” thinking our successes in ministry come from our own efforts.

Jesus then goes on to prophecy the future judgment of 3 Jewish communities: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Unlike Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon, they have each had the opportunity to see Jesus and witness His teachings, healings, and miracles. Nevertheless, He knows they will have each rejected Him following His death on the Cross. As He says, rejecting Him is the same as rejecting God the Father. This is a case of hanging onto human pride (I know what is best for me.), leads to losing an opportunity for salvation.

Our God hates human pride: We are to put it to death. We are to stomp it out in ourselves. We are to smother or crush it. We are to be humble. Someone has once said, “Pride is the difference between what you are and what you think you are.”

It turns out that Samuel Morse was originally a painter of some renown. He was painting a portrait out of town when his wife became ill. Sadly she died before he’d even learned of her illness. Heartbroken, he set aside his painting and dedicated himself to developing a means of communicating, rapidly, over great distances. He eventually invented both the telegraph and the means to transmit messages on it, Morse Code. Even though he became very famous for these inventions, he remained humble, saying, “I have made a valuable application of electricity not because I was superior to other men but solely because God, who meant it for mankind, must reveal it to someone and He was pleased to reveal it to me.” Morse had the right heart attitude.

Consider the following poem by A. Dudley Dennison, Jr.:

Sometime when you are feeling important,

Sometime when your ego’s way up;

Sometime when you take it for granted

That you are the prize-winning “pup”;

Sometime when you feel that your absence

Would leave an unfillable hole,

Just follow these simple instructions,

And see how it humbles your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water,

Put your hand in it up to your wrist.

Now pull it out fast and the hole that remains

Is the measure of how you’ll be missed.

You may splash all you please as you enter,

And stir up the water galore,

But STOP and you’ll find in a minute,

It’s back where it was before.

Borrowed from Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.467).

Let us Pray: Lord, we humbly ask You to help us to give God the glory for whatever we do of merit. We also ask, in Jesus’ name, that You would please save us all from the sin of pride! Amen!

©️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

Birds on a Buffalo

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 5, 2022

Scriptures: Acts 2:1-21; Ps 104:24-35; Ro 8:14-17; Jn 14:8-17, 25-27

In 2003, I went on a mission trip with the youth of the church I was serving at the time (in Philadelphia) to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. The Standing Rock covers an extraordinary amount of real estate from the south-central North Dakota to the northern portion of South Dakota. I found the temperatures of 108-115 to be very uncomfortable and I really hated the biting and stinging black flies—who seemed to love getting ahold of me. I had to buy a fly swatter to beat them off my arms and legs. YIKES! Nevertheless, the native Americans were fascinating. While our youth worked with theirs, I focused on ministry to the women of the tribe, talking with them about their families, their health, their way of life, and their view of God.

If you know anything about the history of the Lakota Sioux, you know they were totally dependent upon the buffalo for their food, clothing, shelter, tools, and so on. They followed the buffalo herds wherever they went, taking only what they needed and using all parts of the animal—including appropriating its tail as a fly-swatter. Essentially, their fortunes rose and fell with the availability of the herds. The Sioux word for Buffalo is tatanka. If you have ever seen the movie, “Dances with Wolves,” you may remember the Kevin Kostner character, an army cavalry officer, was trying to communicate with a few Sioux warriors. He made horns with his fingers and stomped on the ground to convey “buffalo.” The Sioux warriors initially thought he was not quite right in the head, but eventually realized what he was trying to convey. They named the animal in their language—tatonka—which I loosely translate as large, powerful, necessary critter. Interestingly, their word for God the Holy Spirit is the Wakantonka, the greatest of all beings! They knew they were totally dependent upon Him, even for the buffalo. I loved that picture of the Holy Spirit! He is the power-arm of the Trinity. No one can control Him! We, His creatures, are totally dependent upon Him.

We noted while we were there that the herds are coming back. I was fascinated with the buffalo, and asked us to pull our van over whenever we encountered a new herd. As I observed them in the wild, I noticed that many carried a little bird on their shoulders. It occurred to me then that we are to the Holy Spirit as that bird is to the buffalo: We are along for the ride, but unable to influence the direction, timing, or speed at which we travel. All the power resides with the buffalo.

Our Scriptures today, this Pentecost Sunday, all revolve around the very important empowering and sustaining work of the Holy Spirit:

A. Our Acts 2:1-21 lesson describes how the Holy Spirit fell on the 120 disciples, empowering them for service. We are familiar with this story as it explains the birth of the Christian Church (Christ-followers of whatever denomination). The disciples are obediently waiting and praying. They are following Jesus’ orders. He had told them in Luke 24:49 that they were to …stay in the city [Jerusalem] until you have been clothed with power from on high [the Holy Spirit]. They had been waiting for 10 days from Christ’s Ascension. Now bear in mind that Pentecost had already been established by God as an annual feast day back in Leviticus 23 (It was part of the Law/Torah). First came Passover (Friday, the beginning of the Sabbath), but foreshadowing the death of Christ, the Lamb of God. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb had spared the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, the shed blood of Christ covers our sins and redeems us from spending eternity in hell. The second feast God inaugurated was called 1st Fruits (we know it as Easter Sunday), and it foreshadowed Jesus’ resurrection. The third feast, 50 days from Passover, was and is Pentecost (a harvest Festival, also called the Feast of Weeks).

On the original Pentecost, the Holy Spirit showed up early (9:00am), but not visibly. There was an auditory sign, (v.2) Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. People who have lived through tornadoes say they sound like a multitude of freight trains rushing by. That was the sound of the Holy Spirit’s presence, but without the wind. Nevertheless, it brought people out into the streets. There was also a visual sign of the Spirit’s presence (v.3) They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. They could see fire, but it did not burn; think of Moses and the burning bush that did not disintegrate as it burned. Isn’t it interesting that they resembled tongues like fire, since they were going to burst into languages (tongues) previously unknown to them. So the Holy Spirit announces His presence with loud surround-sound and some fancy pyrotechnics. They were then empowered to witness about Jesus to Jewish foreign-language speakers in their native tongues and dialects–people groups from all over the Mediterranean, even from as far as Rome. Peter is now emboldened to preach to the crowd.

Now the Holy Spirit falls on all believers, where previously (in the Old Testament) the Holy Spirit was given to individuals for specific purposes and often for limited time. Today, we encounter the Holy Spirit in (a.) Baptism in which we are reborn by water and the Spirit, as Christ-followers; in (b.) Confirmation🡪in which we are sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13-14 Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession…; and (c.) in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (your own subjective experience) 1 Cor 12:13 For we were all baptized by one spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. This experience is not limited by race or culture or social distinctions. The Holy Spirit is available to all believers who ask for Him, in order for us to minister in the power of Christ, and manifest the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

B. Our Psalm (104:24-35) is a symphony of praise to the God of Creation. The line most relevant to the work of the Holy Spirit is verse 30 When You send Your Spirit, they [meaning we and all creation] are created, and You renew the face of the earth. Peterson’s paraphrase of Scripture, the Message, states it this way: Send out Your Spirit and they [created things] spring to life—the whole countryside in bloom and blossom. In other words, God’s Holy Spirit is creative and transformative. The power of the Holy Spirit makes good things happen.

C. Among those good things is our adoption, thru Christ Jesus, as children of God and heirs with Christ. This is what Paul asserts in our Romans lesson today (8:14-17). We become sons and daughters of God when we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit (v.14 …those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons [and daughters] of God. Our obedience is Key. We are following Jesus’ example when we say, Yet not My will, but Yours be done (Luke 22:42).

In today’s Gospel (John 14:8-17, 25-27), Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “the Counselor,” “the Spirit of Truth.” One of His primary jobs is to teach us Jesus’ will and remind us of Jesus’ ways. To this end, the Holy Spirit dwells within us. He also counsels—guides, directs, encourages, helps—us. If we obey Jesus—there it is again—and pray not selfishly but in the character of Christ, God will grant us what we ask for. You may say, “Well, I prayed to get a Mercedes, in Jesus’ name, but didn’t get one.” The issue then becomes was your receiving a Mercedes consistent with God’s will for you? This is often the “sticking point” when the response to our prayers is “No” or “Not yet.”

Because of the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, we are not to fear anything, according to verse 27 Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. Please say that last part out loud: We are not to be afraid. Again: We are not to be afraid. We have the Holy Spirit, so we don’t need “safe spaces.” I heard recently that MIT, Evergreen University, and others, have eliminated grades for college courses. Someone has decided that bad grades may hurt a student’s self-esteem. I find this logic puzzling. Wouldn’t we do better to teach students to apply themselves to get good grades, or even to manage their disappointment in a healthy manner? Rather than doing away with grading, our culture would be better served to face the truth with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. We don’t even have to worry about what this world is coming to…we can just trust in God and give our concerns to Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The story is told about a little boy who was flying a kite. It was a windy day, and the kite kept going higher and higher. Finally it got so high that it was out of sight. A man passed by and saw the little boy holding onto the string. The man could not see the kite, and he asked the boy, “How do you even know you have a kite up there?” The boy replied, “Because I can feel it.” Typically when we encounter the Holy Spirit today, we don’t hear a great wind or see tongues of flame—or even a dove. Even so, we should be able to discern His assistance in our lives by feeling (sensing) Him (a.) leading us to do the right thing; (b.) empowering us to serve Jesus in His Church; or (c.) helping us to become more like Jesus. As the Lakota Sioux say, He is the wakantonka.

Think about this: Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, His last words were for them to wait until they received the Holy Spirit. He didn’t ask them to write manuscripts or screen-plays. He didn’t expect them to run out and begin evangelizing. He didn’t want them to assemble a committee and come up with a plan or a program. He didn’t even ask them to compose worship songs. Instead, He told them to do nothing until…

(J.D. Grear, Jesus, Continued: Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You, Zondervan.)

That should be us: We are the birds on the buffalo. The Holy Spirit is the power source. We wait on Him. We follow His direction. He leads us and we are to go along for the adventure. Amen!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Stay in Tune

Pastor Sherry’s message for 4/24, 2022

Scriptures: Acts 5:27-39; Ps 150; Rev 1:4-8; Jn 20:19-31

I don’t know much about organs—the musical instrument—but I have read that among the many “stops” on most organs there are 4 of particular importance:

1. The Diapason or principal stop, which appears to heighten volume;

2. The Flute stop, which gives us the tones of a flute;

3. The String stop, which gives us the tones of string instruments like the violin, viola, etc.;

4. and the Vox Humana (the Human voice), which, ironically, is very seldom in tune. It seems if it is tuned when the temperature is cold, it will go out of tune when the environment warms up. If tuned when warm, it goes out of tune when the AC is turned on. This is such a lovely image of us, isn’t it? We easily get out of tune with God.

The Bible commentator, J. Vernon McGee uses the metaphor of these 4 stops to explain the meaning behind Psalm 150. He says opening up the Diapason/principal stop is like when Jesus stepped up to speak creation into existence. It burst forth in all of its glory! Stars, space, earth all sang out praises to God the Father. Remember, Paul said (Romans 8:19-22) that all creation groans as it awaits Jesus’ 2nd Coming. And Jesus told the Pharisees that even the rocks would cry out if He forbade His disciples from praising Him (Luke 19:40). The Flute stop, when opened, sounded like birds and angel choirs who then added their songs of praise. When the String stop was opened, light hummed across the universe, and all of creation sang in harmony to the Lord!

(Rev. Dr. J. Vernon Mcgee, Commentary on Psalms, pp.191-192.)

As Psalm 150:6 says Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! You see, we were created to worship God. He is both our Creator and our Redeemer. Perhaps you remember the Westminster Shorter Catechism question–written in 1646 by a team of Anglicans and Presbyterians, containing 107 questions that explain Christian doctrine– “What is the chief end [purpose] of man [kind]? The answer is, It is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” By glorify is meant that we give Him the weight He is due because He is preeminent over all other things. Because of His supremacy, we are to praise Him/delight in Him always.

When the Vox Humana was added, however, it was found to be out of tune. We human beings are often out of step with God and out of tune.

So the question presents itself, “How do we humans stay in tune with creation and with God?”

A. Psalm 150 tells us we stay in tune with God when we praise Him and when we allow Him to carry the most weight in our lives.

Many folks today are out of tune with God because they either do not know Him; or, they do not respect Him. Many rich folks believe their money and their ingenuity are all they need. Similarly, numerous university professors, scientists, and medical doctors believe their intelligence saves them. Other folks use drugs, alcohol, serial love affairs, and other addictions to fill the God-shaped hole in their lives. They don’t trust God to help them, so they rely on whatever they can find to comfort themselves or numb themselves out.

Thus, McGee writes in his commentary on Psalm 150, p.194 “Today you and I are living in a created universe that is actually singing praise to God. But men are out of tune. Man is in discord. God’s great purpose is to bring man back into the harmony of heaven.” That is why Jesus went to the Cross, died, and rose again. His costly and loving sacrifice brought those of us who believe in Him back into tune with God and with the universe.

B. The apostles knew this. In our Acts 5:27-39 passage, we read of the account of early persecution of the enfant Christian Church. Led by the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin convenes to reemphasize to the apostles—who they have arrested–that they should stop teaching in Jesus’ name.

Peter and the other 10 reply (v.29) We must obey God rather than men! Jesus had told them (in the Great Commission) to take the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Teaching and preaching in the Temple was their faithful response to the first part of this command.

Their insistence on continuing, despite the Sanhedrin’s condemnation of them, infuriated the Jewish leaders. Some hotheads among them urged them to execute them. But Rabbi Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher, recommended a wiser course of action (vv.38-39)…in the present case, I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. (The presence of Christ-followers to this day proves Gamaliel right.) Gamaliel prevailed and the apostles kept right on preaching the Gospel.

Even though they were flogged, they rejoiced due to their release, but also due to God’s power over the views of men, and because they had shared in some of Jesus’ suffering (the flogging). They had seen the Resurrected Christ! They were empowered by the Holy Spirit. And they were very clear about their purpose. Obeying Jesus, whatever the cost, was how they stayed in tune with Jesus.

C. Our Gospel lesson, John 20:19-32, recounts the need for the apostles, but especially for Thomas, to see and to touch the risen Christ. The 10 believed because they saw Him and interacted with Him on Easter Day. Because Thomas was absent at the time, he missed out. But once he touched Jesus, a week later, he knew the resurrection stories were true.

He then exclaims (v.28) My Lord and my God! This is a profound and a beautiful expression of his faith. But notice that Jesus goes on to bless all of us who have not seen Him in the flesh–who have not touched His crucifixion wounds—and yet we believe. Clearly, Jesus commends faith that arises out of something beyond physical experience. As the writer to the Hebrews asserts (11:1) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. You just know that you know, even if you can’t always explain it to someone else. We stay in tune with Jesus when we believe in Him.

D. In Revelation 1:4-8, the apostle John journeys into heaven (in a vision) where he sees that Jesus is the One Who is all He claimed to be:

1. He is the faithful witness the One who came from heaven to earth to reveal and explain to us the Truth.

2. He is the firstborn from the dead the first to rise from the dead and never to die again. Jairus’ 12 year old daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, and Lazarus were all raised from the dead by Jesus. However, unlike Jesus, they all experienced death a second time. By His resurrection, Jesus Christ overcame death for Himself and for us.

3. He is the ruler of the kings of the earth the rightful heir to the promised eternal throne of King David.

4. He is (v.8) the Alpha and the Omega…the One who is [currently in heaven], and who was [walked the earth 2000+ years ago], and who is to come, the Almighty.

In verse 4, John mentions the seven spirits before His [God the Father’s] throne. This means the complete Holy Spirit, not that there are 7 separate Holy Spirits. The number 7, to the Hebrews, meant either perfection or completeness. Consider how often 7—for completeness–appears in the context of God’s dealings with humankind: The Sabbath and worship of God occur on the 7th day (We Christ-followers changed it to the first day of the week in honor of Jesus’ resurrection.) In Joseph’s Egypt, there were 7 years of plenty and 7 of famine. Namaan the Syrian was told to wash in the Jordan 7 times to be healed of his leprosy. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia, was crazy for 7 years. There are 7 Beatitudes in Matthew. There are 7 petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. Seven loaves (and 2 fish) fed the 5,000. Jesus made 7 statements from the Cross. (See J. Vernon McGee, Commentary on Revelation, p.39.) And John reports in his Gospel that Jesus made 7 “I am” statements, all ways of saying He was and is God. So, we stay in tune with Jesus when we believe He is completely and thoroughly God, as well as man.

Our scripture passages today all attest to the ways we can stay in tune with our God:

1. When we praise God and allow Him to carry the most weight in our lives.

2. When we obey God.

3. When we learn to enjoy God first of all.

Think of what He has done and continues to do for us. It is human nature to think we experience joy when we meet our needs first. But the paradox is the Truth: When we learn to enjoy God above self (and others), we tap into the “organ stop” that blasts out joy.

4. When we believe without seeing Jesus in the flesh.

5. When we believe because we know Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the be-all and the end-all, the completeness of God.

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

©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