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

What Did Jesus Really Say?

Pastor Sherry’s message for May 8, 2022

Scriptures: Acts 9:32-43; Ps 23; Rev. 7:9-17; Jn 10:22-30

Solomon once wrote (Ecclesiastes 1:9), What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” The longer I live, the more true his words seem. Now he was not talking about technological or scientific advances. Certainly Solomon never anticipated cell phones, computers, electric cars, or social media, etc. He was talking about the regularity, the predictability of human behavior. People are people, no matter their culture, nationality, gender, the time period during which they live, or any other identifier (the basis of the field of Psychology). While our personalities may differ, one from another, our needs, motives, and actions are pretty similar, and–if one knows enough about a person—our behaviors can often be correctly predicted.

Take the Jewish religious leaders that Jesus encounters in today’s Gospel (John 10:22-30), for example. Jesus is teaching on Solomon’s Porch, in winter, during the Feast of Dedication. This annual celebration commemorated the time, in 167 BC, when Judas Maccabaeus led a successful Jewish revolt to free the Temple from the horrendous and heretical practices of the Syrian King, Antiochus Ephiphanes. By this time in His ministry, (precrucifixion) Jesus has given up on convincing the religious hierarchy that He is the Messiah. He’s not in the Temple itself, but on a porch dedicated to Gentile use. He is teaching His disciples, the ones who believe He is who He says He is. But the religious establishment pursues Him, butts in, and accuses Him of keeping His identity a secret. What?

Haven’t they been listening and watching? No, they fear His popularity with the people, so they have become “spin-doctors” who hope to twist His words to discredit Him—There is nothing new under the sun!

We have seen evidence of this tactic this very week in the leaked Supreme Court opinion draft. The justices write that constitutionally the Supreme Court does not have the power to legislate regarding abortion (pro or con). This power properly belongs to state governments, decided upon via elections. And yet pro-abortionists claim the proposed verdict (overturning the 50 year old Roe v. Wade precedent) condemns abortion and is anti-women. That just isn’t so, but that is how it is being presented in demonstrations and in the media.

In verse 24, the religious elite demand to know, How long will You keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly. How ridiculous! They have not been listening. They make it sound like He is a covert operator. They imply He is up to no good. He answers them (vv.25)🡪I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in My Father’s name speak for Me, but you do not believe because you are not My sheep. 1.) His miracles—healing, casting out demons, multiplying food, raising 3 people from the dead, calming storms, etc.—all authenticate His Messiahship. 2.) His lineage (tribe of Judah, descendant of King David) and birthplace (Bethlehem) match up with Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah. He was introduced by the prophet, John the Baptist—again in fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy. He lacked a formal education—as with Rabbi Hillel or Gamaliel–but taught with authority, wisdom, and accuracy. No one ever witnessed Him sinning. Everything He did and said testified to His being the Messiah, but they refused to believe in Him.

In verse 26, He confronts them–>but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. Additionally, He tells them He knows they are not His sheep because (v.27) My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow Me…(v.30) I and the Father are One. In other words, “you may be religious authorities, but you have held too tight to the box in which you have put your limited notions of God, and thus you have not recognized your God walking among you. They have totally missed that He is the Good Shepherd and their Shepherd King. Thanks be to God that the members of this congregation all know Jesus and thanks be to God that you have not let your prejudices or preconceptions blind you to His identity as our One, True Messiah!

Our Scriptures today all reference Jesus as our Messianic Shepherd King, and they all assume that we His sheep hear His voice.

A. In our Acts 9:32-43 passage, Peter is doing what Jesus told him to do —Feed my sheep. Peter is following Jesus’ model, doing for Jesus’ people what Jesus Himself did. First, Peter heals a paralyzed man named Aeneas. Remember, Jesus had said to the man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:8), Get up! Pick up your mat and walk! Similarly, Peter says (v.34), Jesus Christ heals you [he cannot heal in his own power, but only in the name of Jesus]. Get up and take care of your mat. And again, like Jesus did with the Widow of Nain’s son, or the 12YO daughter of Jairus, or His friend, Lazarus, Peter raises the widow Tabitha/Dorcas from the dead.

Peter has clearly been transformed into who Jesus meant for him to be: He has remembered and is now compliant with Jesus’ command to him, Feed My sheep. He is doing the work of healing, preaching, and teaching the “lost” of Israel. He is revealing to them that Jesus is their Messiah. He is demonstrating to them the new, improved version of Peter—the one who listens to and obeys Jesus.

B. Psalm 23 is so familiar to all of us. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want/be in want (v.1). King David is praising God for the wonderful ways in which He has cared for him and for us (which assumes he and we hear His voice). He provides for us (vv.2-3), using the analogy of caring for sheep—He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness. He discerns our needs, and He gently guides us in the direction He knows will see that they are met. He protects us with His trusty shepherd’s Crook. He feeds us (manna in the past, Communion in the present, and the Wedding Super of the Lamb to come), and blesses us. He even helps us feel at home in His House.

King Jesus still shepherds us today, if we can tune out the world long enough to hear His still, small voice. Still and small does not mean His voice is not powerful–Marlin Brando, for instance, spoke softly in “the Godfather,” and few people ignored his authority. It just means that we have to be attuned to discern it. We don’t let our preconceptions drown out His words.

C. In Revelation 7:9-17 (v.17)🡪For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

The heavenly perspective again pictures Jesus as earth’s Shepherd King. Jesus will govern over us, while the Father Himself will comfort us. The passage presents us with a lovely word-picture of worship in Heaven:

Believers in Christ are so numerous there that no one can count them all.

They come from all times, all places, and all races; they include Old Testament believers; all born-again Christians; and Jewish believers who will be martyred during the Great Tribulation. All are united in worshipping at the throne of God. All are led by our Shepherd King, Christ Jesus.

D. Our Gospel passage is John 10:22-30. Back in verse 14, Jesus revealed Himself as the Good Shepherd. In other words, to the Hebrew ear, He was saying that He is God because God the Father had previously revealed Himself to them as their Shepherd. He is saying He is the one God referred to in Ezekiel 34:22-24 (after castigating the bad kings and idolatrous religious leaders of Israel) —Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says… I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them a shepherd, my servant David [meaning Jesus, out of the lineage of David, because Ezekiel prophesied after King David’s death], and He [Jesus] will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David [meaning Jesus] will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken. So when Jesus says that He is the One who will protect His sheep—not the snobby, hypocritical religious elite–and, when He says He is the One who will comfort them and provide for them, He is saying to them, openly, I am God. Those who believe in Me follow Me (do My will); those who don’t—like the religious elite–just don’t get it.

The message for us is that we know we belong to Jesus—are His sheep–by being attuned to His voice, hearing Him and obeying Him.

With regard to Human behavior, There is nothing new under the sun. However, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8)! Let’s pray:

Lord, help us to discern Your voice when You speak to us. Most of us here have, in one way or another, heard and recognized Your voice– some more often than others; and some may hear more distinctly than others. But please help us all to clearly hear what You actually say to us. Expand the boxes we have put you in to include the truth of Who You are. Help us to let go of our preconceptions and mistaken ideas about You. Lord, thank you that You are trustworthy. Thank you that we can feel secure in the promise that we cannot be snatched out of Your hands, and in the hope that we will one day be among that huge throng of heavenly worshippers. Finally, help us Lord to do the work You have set before us. Help us each to recognize lost or misguided neighbors (sheep) who come into our lives. Help us to speak lovingly to them about You. Like Peter (and You, Lord Jesus), help us to shepherd them. And help us to follow You, Lord Jesus, all the days of our lives. Amen!

May it be so!

©2022 Rev. Pastor Sherry Adams