Follow Me into the Light

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 19, 2023

Scriptures : 1 Sam 16:1-13; Ps 23; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41

My new, favorite, contemporary, Christian song is, “Follow Me,” by Casting Crowns* (Thrive CD, 2013). The lyrics are as follows:

(Look/listen for the repeated themes.)

At the end of myself, I am empty and dry

I have nothing to give, But surrender inside.  

[Jesus responds] Let down your nets, This is not the end

From now on, you’ll be Fishers of Men. [Who is this? Peter, Lk 5:1-11]

Follow Me, Follow Me, Follow Me.  

At the end of myself, Judgment calls out my name

I’ve been looking for love, but I’m swallowed by shame. 

[Jesus responds] Throw away all your stones, Find forgiveness in Me.

Let me be your new passion, My daughter you’re free [Woman caught in adultery, Jn 8:1-11]. 

At the end of myself, I’ve done things my own way;

This world gave up on me, now it’s death I do pay.

[Jesus responds] You know who I am, I’m sin’s sacrifice;

Today you will be… in paradise.  [Thief on the Cross, Lk 23:32-45]

[Any seeker] Who is the man who calmed the seas?

And Who is this man who loves the least of these?

[Jesus responds] I am the Promised One; God gave His only Son.

And those who believe…Will live eternally.

At the end of yourself, just follow Me.

I will give you new life, just follow Me, Follow me.

If at the end of yourself, just follow Me.

You may lose everything, just follow Me.

I will give you new life, just follow Me, follow Me.

The repeated themes are, off course, Follow Me, and, At the end of myself. When we come to the end of our own resources, we know we need Jesus. Another way of saying this is that without Jesus, we are spiritually blind. Two of our Scripture passages today deal with blindness (physical and spiritual) and what it takes to come out into the Light of Christ. Let’s examine them together:

A. John 9:1-41 details Jesus’ healing of the man born blind.

The context is that of a Sabbath Day when Jesus spots this blind man begging before one of the Temple gates in Jerusalem. Blind and other physically impaired persons usually did not make a living—in those days–by practicing a trade. Instead, they customarily stationed themselves somewhere near consistent foot traffic and begged for food money from passersby.

Upon seeing him, the disciples want Jesus to explain the cause of the man’s blindness (a theoretical, theological discussion). But Jesus downplays the issue of who or what to blame, saying (v.3, The Message, Eugene Peterson, NavPress, 2002, p.1937)”You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. Then He proceeds to meet the man’s most pressing practical need, saying (vv.4-5, MSG)We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent Me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. [Remember, this was a predominantly rural culture with no one working past sundown.] For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light. (Other translations say, I am the Light of the World.) The poor guy has lived in darkness his whole life! Jesus isn’t going to stand there and argue the why’s of the fellow’s condition. He intends to heal him.

He also intends for them and for us to realize He is God. He makes an “I AM” statement—to Jewish ears, he was declaring His divinity. God the Father had identified Himself to them as “I am Who I am,” meaning that He has always existed; in a sense, our God is always exists in the present tense. In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes many I am statements so that the Jews would realize He was identifying Himself as God: I am the Living Water; I am Manna from Heaven; I am the Way, the Truth; and the Life; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the Resurrection and the Life; etc.

Now, this poor blind man has never enjoyed light in his life, but the One who is the Light of the World is going to bring it to him. He makes a kind of clay from saliva and dirt and places it on the guy’s closed eyes.

Now, consider this: The blind fellow has heard Jesus’ voice; he has felt Jesus’ touch; he has probably even smelled Jesus’ scent. He obeys his unseen Redeemer by going, as instructed, to wash the clay off in the pool of Siloam (which John tells us means “sent.” The man was sent by Jesus to the pool named “Sent”). He seems to trust Jesus, sight-unseen. He chooses to do what Jesus tells him (Contrast this with Naaman the Syrian general who was too proud to dip himself—as the prophet had instructed him—in the Jordan. His servants had to convince him to “follow orders” to obtain his healing.)

Throughout the rest of the incident, the Pharisees are trying to figure out how a rabbi who breaks Sabbath rules against working on that day—which makes Jesus a sinner in their eyes—could possibly work a miracle of God. The guys’ neighbors can’t explain it. Some of them don’t even recognize him since he is now sighted. His parents do recognize him but are afraid the religious rulers will excommunicate them if they celebrate Jesus, so they avoid committing themselves. But the grateful and spunky guy takes them to task! He’s not concerned about their theological issues. He just knows he was born blind but now has his sight.

Then Jesus turns the tables on the Pharisees when He calls them physically sighted but spiritually blind. He has worked a miracle that they cannot accept. In so doing, He has fulfilled the prophesy from Isaiah 61:1 that Messiah would restore sight to the blind. But in their confidence that Jesus cannot really be the Messiah, they refuse to see the evidence before their own eyes.

B. Paul also addresses the topic of spiritual blindness in Ephesians 5:8-14. Of course he (and we) start from knowledge that Jesus is the Light of the world. As Peterson puts it his paraphrase (MSG p.2132), Paul exhorts us You groped your way through that murk [habitual sins] once, but no longer. You are out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it. In other words, prior to accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we lived in spiritual darkness. Once we accept Jesus, we live the Light of Christ. As St. John would say later in 1 John 1:5-6 God is Light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. We demonstrate the fact that we dwell in Christ’s light by living a life different from that of our culture: We demonstrate goodness or kindness to others. We live lives that are righteous as we try to do those things of which Jesus would approve, and avoid doing the opposite. Our words and our manner reflect truth—i.e., we are sincere and genuine.

Finally, Paul urges us to (v.11) have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness….Dark deeds aren’t driven away by preaching or lecturing against them; but rather, our actions speak louder—and are a better witness to Christ—than are our words. Rev. Dr. J. Vernon McGee relates a true story of one of his parishioners. She was a married lady who grieved the fact that her husband was uninterested in Jesus. She wanted him to share her faith and to accompany her to church and in prayer. So she educated, begged, pleaded, nagged, and even resorted to crying through the two meals a day they were together. Dr. McGee told her to stop that immediately. He recommended she pray, fix excellent meals, and deal with her husband with a smile on her face and a loving attitude. It took about six months, but one day he suggested they attend church together. We cannot shame another into accepting Christ (McGee’s commentary on Ephesians, Thomas Nelson, 1991, pp.142-143).

The song I read earlier gives 3 examples of people who chose to follow Jesus: Peter, the woman caught in adultery, and the thief on the Cross. Our Gospel lesson provides an additional one, the man born blind. As with each of them, we often come to Jesus when we come to the end of ourselves; i.e., when we exhaust ourselves trying to save ourselves. We realize we can’t do it on our own. We recognize we need Jesus. Then, like the man born blind, we obey Him out of thanksgiving for His gift of salvation and healing.

Following Jesus means we don’t just claim we love Him, but we live lives that are changed due to our relationship with Him. We come to demonstrate the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22) love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, goodness, patience, faithfulness, and self-control. We live out being good, being right with God, and being truthful.

Dear Lord, help us to live lives that are pleasing to You and that reflect Your Light to a lost, angry, and hopeless world. Help us to truly follow You. May the way we live attract others to You, O Lord, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

*Follow Me by Casting Crowns’ video:


The God Behind the Curtain

Pastor Sherry’s message for February 19, 2023

Scriptures: Ex 24:12-18; Ps 99; 2 Pet 1:16-21; Matt 17:1-9

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the day the church remembers its brief experience of Jesus in all of His revealed glory.

Typically, when we think of truth being revealed, we tend to summon up images of dark deeds brought into the light: Another corrupt politician or businessman being exposed, or the famous case of the Wizard of Oz. Remember the scene in that classic movie where Dorothy, Toto (her dog), the Tin Man, the Lion, and the Scarecrow encounter the Great Wizard? His voice thunders and his face is projected larger-than-life on a giant screen. Dorothy and friends are terrified until the little dog pulls back the curtain. They see the true, ordinary man, who has used showbiz technology to promote himself as all powerful. In a famous line—now seen as humorous–he cries out, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Too late! His posturing has been exposed.

On the other hand, we also hear of wonderful revelations:

I remember seeing a video of a man who’d not seen color before get a pair of glasses that corrected for his color-blindness. He was able to experience the delight that color added to his previous dull gray or brown life. He appeared to be overwhelmed with joy. Or did you see the video of a baby girl with a severe hearing defect? A hospital in Cincinnati provided her a set of hearing aids that allowed her to hear her mother’s voice for the first time. Like the colorblind man, she reacted with great joy and wonder.

Our Scriptures today celebrate the joy and wonder of some particularly blessed humans when they visually beheld the God Behind the Curtain.

A. Let’s start with Peter (2nd Peter 1:16-21). Along with John and James, Peter was present at Jesus’ Transfiguration. He writes this letter in about 66AD, shortly before his crucifixion. One could say this was his farewell address. Just a few verses prior (vv.13-14), he refers to his earthly body as a tent, which Jesus has told him he… will soon put…aside.

As Peter prepares to die, he reassures his readers (including us) that Jesus’ transfiguration was a real event (v.16) We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

Peter saw Jesus in all His heavenly glory. He and the other two saw the True Divine Being behind the curtain of His human flesh. Peter heard the voice of the Father say to them (vv.17-18) This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Peter may have later let his all too human fear override this experience of Jesus, briefly; but in his heart of hearts, he knew the truth of what he had seen and heard.

B. Matthew was not present on the mountain, but he had lived with Peter, James, John (and Jesus), for 3 years and he believed the account the 3 friends revealed after Jesus’ resurrection. Just as Peter later testified, Jesus’ appearance was transformed in a dramatic and otherworldly way. He shone with a tremendously bright light which did not shine down upon Him, but rather emanated from within Him. They saw Him in all his heavenly glory. Later, in Revelation 22:16, Jesus will say of Himself I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star. By this He meant He is descended from the lineage of King David, as prophesied, and He is the Divine Light that announces the new dawn.

The 3 apostles also beheld Him with two Old Testament “greats,” the prophets Moses, the Law-Giver, and Elijah, the one who challenged over 800 pagan priests–and who decisively demonstrated the power of God over their demonic gods. Neither one died and went to heaven in the usual way. Moses died as the people moved to enter the Promised Land. Scripture says that God buried him (Deuteronomy 34:6). Elijah exited this life in a blaze of glory in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:11-12). It is Luke who tells us (9:31) the Father had sent these two Old Testament saints to confer with Jesus about His impending death, probably to comfort and to reassure Him; and to strengthen and encourage Him to withstand His coming ordeal.

C. Speaking of Moses, our Old Testament lesson, Exodus 24:12-18, features him and his leadership team dining with God. The Lord has just revealed to him the Law, including the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20-23:19). God tells Moses to write the Law down, then read it to the Israelites. Moses obediently does so. The Israelites vow (v.3) Everything the Lord has said we will do, promising obedience. (Yeah, sure, that’s wishful thinking. Their adherence to their vow lasted about 40 days!)

Then God has Moses erect an altar and 12 stone pillars to represent each of the 12 tribes. Young men are then pressed into service to corral sacrificial animals for sin and fellowship offerings. Moses, as directed, collects the blood of the sacrifices and places some on the corners of the altar. He is then directed by God to sprinkle the people with the rest. You may recall that no one can enter into God’s presence with sin on their soul. Sprinkling them with the blood of sacrificial animals symbolizes that the people’s sins are washed away or cleansed. As Moses says (v.8) This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words. (Notice how closely this resembles what we say in the Communion Service over the wine: This is My [Jesus’] blood of the New Covenant which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.)

Following this, Moses, his brother Aaron (the 1st high priest), Aaron’s two eldest sons, and 70 elders are all invited to have a meal with God.

This whole procedure is actually the template for our communion service, established by God the Father over 4,000 years ago. Think about it:

(1) God’s Word is read;

(2) God’s Word is preached or explained;

(3) The people respond, “Thanks be to God.”

(4) Jesus is the once and for all perfect sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 5:7-9), so we need not kill any bulls or lambs. His blood has atoned for our sins, so we are cleansed and can freely come into God’s presence. Communion, a spiritual and physical meal between God and human believers, is served. By the way, the Israelite leadership team did not see God the Father. He is Spirit and we know that no one can see Him. Instead, they dined with the pre-incarnate Jesus.

D. Do you think the leadership team knew they were standing on holy ground? Psalm 99 exhorts us to worship God with our praise. It reminds us that God is holy and totally “other” than us—supreme and exalted over all things, and worthy of our sincere devotion.

When the fleshly curtain of Jesus’ human body is pulled away, we shall see Him in all His divinity, all of His glory. He is the real deal! Some of you may have heard that a revival has broken out on the campus of Asbury University in Kentucky. In answer to our weekly prayers for revival and that God would reach our young people, students and guests from all over the world, have been praising God and worshipping Him, in the university chapel, since February 8th. God appears to be changing the lives of Gen Y’s and Z’s. Praise God! Let’s pray that the Lord brings many to Christ through this new move of the Holy Spirit. Let us, with them, worship the one true God who has revealed Himself from behind the curtain, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen and Amen!

©️2023 Rev. Pastor Sherry Adams

What Does God Want From Me?

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 29, 2023

Scriptures: Micah 6:1-8; Ps 15; 1 Cor 1:18-31; Matt 5:1-12

I heard an interesting, true story this week: A high school student I know—Jake–was called down to the office and told another kid—Sam–had accused him of bringing drugs to school to sell. Now Sam had been caught red-handed with illegal substances. When the school authorities asked where Sam got the drugs, he falsely named Jake. They brought Jake in, told him what he had been accused of, and searched him. Jake defended himself by saying he doesn’t do drugs and he certainly would neither bring them to school nor sell them. Because they had Sam’s story 1st, the authorities seemed reluctant to believe Jake. They frisked him and searched his locker and backpack but found nothing. Finally, they let Jake return to class yet would not tell him the name of the student who had falsely accused him.

The grown-ups must have forgotten that this is a small town. Word got out—as it generally always does–and Jake learned the identity of his accuser. Jake’s parents were furious at Sam—and wanted to address the matter with Sam’s parents straight away–but Jake asked them to let him handle the situation. Jake calmly confronted Sam, asking him why he had lied about him. Sam “stone-walled,” would not answer Jake, and would not give him eye-contact.

I was appalled when I heard this and I wondered if this is indicative of the value system of most teens today. Jake, a Christian, has taken a wise stance: he is now praying for his false-accuser…Praying that Sam would come to know Jesus; and Praying that Sam would regret lying and trying to get an innocent person into trouble. I commend him and would only add my hope that Sam comes to know the 10 Commandments—bearing false witness is #9.

Thinking about this incident over the last few days, I realized Jake’s response is right out of our Micah 6:1-8 lesson, as well as our psalm and Gospel:

The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah in Judea, and of Amos and Hosea in Samaria, during the 8th century BC. It was a time of great prosperity and wealth in Judah. It was also a time of extensive apostasy. Political corruption was rampant; the rich and powerful felt free to exploit those who were weaker; and many had fallen away from God.

When they did worship Him, their worship was pro-forma, mind-less and rote. Mostly, they just went through the motions. And their moral behavior was despicable. Actually, they were behaving a lot like modern Americans today.

So God appointed Micah as a “whistle-blower” to his time period. His job was to challenge the people on their arrogance, dishonesty, and hypocrisy. He was also tasked with warning them of the judgment to come if they did not turn back to the Lord.

Chapter 6:1-8 forms the climax of Micah’s prophesy: He portrays God as confronting Judah, as though they were adversaries in a court of law.

Listen to Peterson’s paraphrase (The Message) of verses 1-2–Take your stand in court. If you have a complaint, tell the mountains [powerful nations]; make your case to the hills [smaller. Less influential nations]. And now, Mountains, hear God’s case; listen, Jury Earth—For I am bringing charges against My people, I am building a case against Israel. God is telling the world to watch and listen.

But instead of going on the offensive, God asks what He is guilty of that His people have all but abandoned Him. He reminds them of their salvation history with Him:

(1) He has rescued them slavery in Egypt.

(2) He provided them with good leaders like Moses, Aaron and Miriam.

(3) When the king of Moab, Balak, hired the false prophet Balaam to curse them, God protected them by blocking any curses.

(4) He also provided for them when Joshua assumed leadership from Moses (at Shittim), and protected them at Gilgal as they recovered from circumcision. (They had not circumcised anyone on the wilderness march, so all the adult males now needed to take the sign of their covenant with God. Doing so required about 3 days recovery time when they would have been too vulnerable to resist an enemy attack). God had been faithful while they have been faithless.

Then the prophet anticipates the people’s response to God’s indictment: (verses 6-7) —Should we bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves? Would God be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil? Would He be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin? They are essentially asking, “What do we do to make amends to God?” “Is God mad because we didn’t do enough?” “Should we do more to try to please Him?” But God does not want extravagant offerings from us. As if we can do something for God! A much later generation will ask the same thing of Jesus, and He will answer (John 6:28-29) —This is the work of God [that you can do], that you believe in Him Whom He has sent [faith in Jesus]. All we can do, and the best we can do, is to have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

And in verse 8, Micah summarizes the issue: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Listen to the way Peterson paraphrases it: But He’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what GOD is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.

They are dwelling in darkness, as are many in our country today. . Psalm 15: 2-3 says [Those who please God are] the one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does not wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others. Sam’s behavior demonstrates he is dwelling in darkness. The folks back then—much like many “religious” folks today–are focusing on external religious practices, while neglecting their internal experience of God. They need to know and relate to God’s heart.

So what does Micah mean in verse 8? This side of the Cross, we know that we must believe in Jesus to be saved. What God wants from us is to demonstrate our faith by living a life that pleases Him:

(1) To act justly means to do what is right and truthful in God’s eyes. Sam lied to get the focus off himself—he threw Jake under the bus. If Sam had acted justly, he would have admitted his own fault and left Jake out of it. To act justly means exhibiting honest practices in business; not cheating on your taxes or your spouse; giving your employer a full day’s work for a full day’s pay (and employers should give their workers the pay they have earned; playing by the rules in sports and cards, etc; in other words, doing the right thing in God’s eyes.

(2) To love mercy means to offer others grace—i.e., treat them better than they deserve. Justice is a great starting point, but it’s not enough. Grace is Jake forgiving Sam for having tried to ruin his reputation and get him into trouble. God has saved us, through Jesus, when we did not deserve it. We offer grace to others because Jesus offered/offers it to us.

(3) To walk humbly with our God means to do God’s will instead of our own. Humility says “God made me and He knows what is best for me. I’m not as smart as He is, so I will submit to Him and follow His will.” Pride, on the other hand, says, “I’m in charge of me and I will do what I want to do.” It puts self ahead of God. In fact, it makes self a god instead of the One Who is God. Prideful people lack a “teachable spirit.” They are unwilling to admit they don’t always know what is best and are therefore unwilling to listen to someone who might be wiser or more experienced.

No wonder God says in Isaiah 66:2–But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My Word.

No wonder Jesus lists humility of spirit as the 1st characteristic to be blessed in the Beatitudes of Matthew. As Peterson phrases it, You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule.

So what’s God want from me, from us? What defines a life that pleases God? First, we must have faith in His Son, Jesus. Next, we try to live a life that is characterized by the following: Acting honestly and rightly; offering grace to others, even when they don’t appear to deserve it; and being humble with regard to God, remembering to be grateful to Him for all of His blessings, and to be obedient to Him, even when it’s hard. I believe Jake pleased God when he confronted Sam face-to-face, rather than castigating him on social media. This righteous behavior took courage and humility. That young man certainly set an example for Sam, and for us.

May we all remember to act justly, offer grace/mercy to others, and walk humbly with our God! Amen!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Antidote to Isolation and Alienation

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 22, 2023

Scriptures: Isa 9:1-4; Ps 27:1-9; 1 Cor 1:10-18; Matt 4:12-23

John Fairless and Delmer Chilton, of “Two Bubba’s and a Bible” fame share the following story:

“Back in the 1980’s there was a man named Larry Trapp living in Lincoln, Nebraska. His name was doubly ironic: He was a man trapped in his own hatred and trapped in his own body. Larry Trapp was suffering from a fatal disease and was confined to a wheel chair; he was nearly blind; he was also the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Nebraska. He truly was a man trapped in darkness.

“Larry Trapp became obsessed with driving Michael Weisser out of town. Weiser was Jewish and the cantor of the Lincoln Synagogue. Trapp barraged Weisser with hate mail, at home and on the job [Remember, this was in the days before cell phones and internet]. He made incessant threatening phone calls, he organized demonstrations; he did everything he could to make life a living hell for Michael Weisser and his family.

“Cantor Weisser was truly intimidated and scared. He had a wife and children he wanted to protect. But Michael Weisser was also a man who was unwilling to let another person’s hate prevent him from showing love. So he started calling Larry Trapp’s home, always getting the answering machine. So, he always left a message. He said, ‘This is Michael Weisser. I’d like to talk to you. I want to know why you are doing this to me.’ Finally, one day, Larry Trapp answered the phone, screaming and cursing and threatening, ‘WHAT DO YOU WANT? YOU’RE HARASSING ME!’

“And Michael Weisser said, ‘I know you have a hard time getting around and can’t drive, and I was wondering if you might need a ride to the grocery store or something?’ After a very long stunned silence, Larry Trapp quietly replied, ‘Uh, no, I’ve got that covered, but thanks for asking.’

“Larry and Michael kept talking by phone. After a while, Larry Trapp started going over to the Jewish Cantor’s house for dinner, they became friends, and when it became apparent he had nowhere else to go the Weisser family invited Larry to move in with them and he did, dying there in Michael’s arms some months later.

“Somewhere along the way, Larry Trapp left the KKK. He spent his last time on earth spreading a message of love in a world of hate; Larry Trapp became an apostle to Klansmen and other hate groups, trying to let them see the great light of love and forgiveness he has seen and experienced.”

(Originally reported in Time Magazine, February 17, 1992)

I wish I could tell you that Michael Weisser was a Christian. He was not a Christian, and yet he offered Christ-like love, compassion, and mercy to someone who had been thoroughly hateful to him. Obviously he lived by God’s admonition in Leviticus 19:18: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. What a great example for us! We overcome hate not by repaying it in kind. We overcome hate not by exacting revenge—as the culture advises us. We overcome hate with a calm manner and a loving heart.

The plain truth is that disconnectedness — isolation and alienation (way too common in our nation today) is at the root of most human problems. We are disconnected from God, from each other, and even from our true selves. Think about those who instigate mass shootings—or even those who suicide. They tend to be loners, people who feel like outsiders. They lack genuine, open, trusting, and loving relationships. They don’t feel a sense of community and envy those who do. Over time, they become angry, disappointed, without hope and, I believe, then fall prey to acting on Satan-inspired thoughts like killing or destroying.

Now think about how we are to function as a church: We are to gather together to (1) Worship God; (2) Learn more about Him so we can love Him; (3) And to form a community that demonstrates His love for us to others. The church should be the antidote to the poison of disconnectedness, isolation, and alienation.

This is the clear message of three of our passages today.

A. Our Gospel is from Matthew 4:12-23, and describes how Jesus began His public ministry: Matthew 1st tells us Jesus’ motivation for moving His base of operations from Nazareth to Capernaum. We know from the prophesies of Isaiah in 9:1-2 and 42:6-7, that Jesus was/is meant to be a light for the Gentiles (a corrective for what the Israelites had failed to do). Additionally, Luke 4:14-30 tells us that Jesus was rejected by His friends and neighbors in Nazareth when He essentially claimed He was the Messiah. So, He moved His base of operations NE to a larger town, Capernaum. It was a fishing town on the banks of Sea of Galilee. Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew all came from there. It was also a busy border town with a customs house meant to regulate trade from two major trade routes: One running East and West; a second, “The Way of the Sea,” joined Arabia and Egypt with nations north of Israel. It was a region which contained a large number of Roman citizens (there for vacations, retirement, and “peace-keeping” purposes) and other folks from all over. As a result, Jesus could teach and interact with many, but without the scrutiny He would have received in Jerusalem.

There He enlisted His first disciples…out walking on the shoreline. First, He calls brothers Andrew and Peter (Remember, Andrew had been JtB’s disciple, an probably heard John call Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Then He calls brothers James and John. All four guys fish for a living, but He promises to make them fishers of men. Apparently they drop everything and follow Him. Jesus is picking the original leaders of His as yet to be formed Church.

The Church was/is His strategy for reaching us, the Gentiles. We know He lived and traveled with these guys for 3 years. They learned from His teachings; their observations of Him; and the practice opportunities He gave them. Jesus could have established His church any number of ways, but He gathered together a small group of committed followers. He developed deep, personal relationships with them. He then sent them out to transform the world–to carry His light to Jews, and to rescue Gentiles from the darkness of paganism or unbelief.

B. St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 1:10-18) emphasizes 2 points: He wants us to be as unified as we can be…Not to argue the merits/strengths of different pastors; not to hold a special allegiance to the ones who baptized us, married us, or buried our mothers, etc.; not even to come to church to make ourselves feel better. Rather, we must remember we are in the church in order to learn to know and to love Jesus, and to offer love to those who don’t yet know Him.

Paul wants us to follow Jesus—just like James, John, Andrew, and Peter. Rather than competing with each other, we need to keep our focus on Christ. Our loyalty is not to this church building—though we may love it–or even to our denomination. Our loyalty is to Jesus.

I reviewed my old sermons and realized I preached what I am about to say three years ago. We are at a cross-road in our denomination: Those who favor ordaining active gay persons and allowing same sex marriage are once again bringing that issue up for a vote. I said then and I think it is still true: I believe the United Methodist Church as we know it, will soon split, with those who hold to Scripture separating from those who appear to be following the dictates of the culture. We will be holding a parish meeting this Wednesday, January 25th, to discuss what we feel called to do. If we want to remain true to Biblical teachings, we may opt to leave the UMC and either join another denomination or remain independent. I urge you to pray about this, and to remember that Paul is urging us to remain faithful to Christ above all things. If the denomination is bowing to pressure from the culture—and chooses to depart from the teachings of Scripture–we may want to disassociate ourselves from the denomination. I was ordained an Episcopal “priest,” and left that demonination when the same split arose in favor of the Anglican Church. Please note I don’t take such a move lightly. In fact, I find it heart-breaking.

Meanwhile, it may seem like a big disconnect to consider a denominational split while also speaking of building relationships. When we pursue the Truth, sometimes we have to walk apart from the culture, from the denomination that nurtured our faith, and even sometimes from our families, or members of our families. Nevertheless, we strive to build relationships when we focus our spiritual energies on loving God and loving our neighbors.

May God give us His wisdom in this hour. Amen!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Leading Others to Christ

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 15, 2023

Scriptures: Isa 49:1-7; Ps 40:1-11; 1 Cor 1:1-9; Jn 1:29-42

Do you remember who led you to Christ? Perhaps it was a Sunday School Teacher when you were a child? Maybe a godly parent or relative, or even a Christian neighbor, a teacher, or a coach you admired? It might have even been someone you met in the pages of a book—like the Bible or the Chronicles of Narnia? Or someone from TV? A television evangelist someone recommended you watch? Or a series, like the very popular current series, “The Chosen”? If you haven’t tuned into it on a streaming service or YouTube, I would highly recommend that you do. I have long loved Jesus, but I am finding The Chosen’s portrayal of Gospel stories has deepened my faith in Him.

I credit my grandmothers with teaching me about Jesus. They were both church-going, Bible reading women with personal relationships with Jesus. My father’s mother saw to it that I was baptized at age three. Both taught me that Jesus loved me, and saw to it that I attended Sunday School when in their care. In the days before Christian cartoons, movies and internet, I remember those old flannel-board presentations of cut outs of Noah and the animals making their way into the ark, and of David going up against Goliath. My mother’s mother cleaned her church and took me with her as a child, teaching by example the idea of serving God with our hands and our hearts.

Think back to who introduced you to Jesus and be sure to thank them in person, or thank God for them if they have already gone on to Glory.

Our Gospel lesson today (John 1:29-42) describes how John the Baptist (JtB) pointed two of his followers to Jesus. JtB sees Jesus passing by and comments to them (v.36) Look, the Lamb of God! The first is Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. We don’t know the identity of the second guy—though tradition tells us it was John, the author of this Gospel account. (He is always so modest, never naming himself in his Gospel account, but often calling himself “the disciple Jesus loved.”)

These two come alongside Jesus, Who then asks them, What do you want? He’s not being rude; He just wants to know what is motivating them to connect with Him. Perhaps they are nervous, or feel put on the spot, but they respond, (v.36) Rabbi, where are you staying? I think this is such a curious question. I would have asked about His knowledge and/or His credentials: “Are You indeed the Christ?” “May we ask You some questions?” “May we follow You to find out more?” Instead, it sounds as if they want to know about His accommodations—“Are you staying here Capernaum? “ “At the Holiday Inn or the Hilton Courtyard?” But Jesus isn’t put off and replies, (v. 39) Come and you will see an echo of Psalm 34:8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. He very simply invites them. He encourages them to Come and…see for themselves, and they do spend the rest of the day with Him.

At some point—maybe that day or the next—Andrew leads Peter to Jesus. Andrew rightly believes that he and John—thanks to JtB—have met the One believed to be Messiah. Andrew then urges his brother, Simon Peter, to come meet Jesus as well. Jesus greets Simon with “a word of knowledge.” Without having previously met Simon, Jesus says his name, and cites his lineage ”You are the son of John” [Simon bar Jonah]. Then He proceeds to change Simon’s name: Cephas is the Aramaic form of rock or stone; Peter is the Greek word for rock. Peter was at that point anything but a rock! Jesus is renaming him not to describe his current state, but to inform who he was to become.

So let’s consider this: JtB, Jesus’ cousin, identifies Christ to Andrew and John. They have JtB’s word for it that Jesus is the Lamb of the God (a title with Messianic implications). They spend time with Him and are convinced He is the Messiah. Andrew brings Peter to Christ (just as John brings his brother James, and his father, Zebedee.) We are each individually introduced to Jesus, very often one-by-one, almost like exposure to a virus (meaning no disrespect).

We can also “catch the fever” by reading Scripture. Some pretty famous Christian authors were nonbelievers prior to reading the Bible: The English professor and subsequent theologian, CS Lewis, was converted by reading Scripture, as were the journalists become Christian writers and apologists, Philip Yancey and Josh McDowell.

Our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah 49:1-7 is the 2nd (of 4) Servant Songs, all prophesies of Jesus. Last week, we read the 1st Servant Song from Isaiah 42, which talked about the character and mission of Jesus. He would be humble, gentle, and compassionate; He would be completely righteous or sinless; And he would be thoroughly dedicated to the task God placed before Him–He would redeem Israel as well as the rest of humankind.

Isaiah 49 speaks again of His task/His ministry of Salvation. God had meant the nation of Israel to be “a light to the Gentiles…,” a good example meant to attract pagan nations to God. But they had focused on themselves and had insulated themselves from other nations, thinking of them as unclean. So the Father would send Jesus Christ to take on the sinfulness of the world (i.e., clean us up). He was God’s plan from the beginning.

In verse 2, the prophet states He [God the Father] made My mouth [Jesus’] like a sharpened sword…. This means that Jesus’ teachings and pronouncements would be truthful and accurate. While His death might look to some like defeat, it would in fact fulfill God’s purposes for Him. The prophet predicts that the Father will be pleased with Jesus’ efforts–and Jesus did effect our salvation! Additionally, this Servant Song predicts, rightly, that Jesus the Messiah will be a light for the Gentiles and will save us all from the penalty for our sins.

Psalm 40:1-11 reiterates the same message. The death of Jesus might look like a catastrophic defeat, but His death and resurrection are in fact a great victory. The Psalmist, King David, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, defines Christ’s victory as a New Song, the Song of Redemption. He further asserts that (v.4) Blessed is the man [woman] who makes the Lord his [her] trust. That is what JtB, Andrew, John, and Peter each did. That’s what my grandmothers modeled for me. It’s what we all need to do…fully put our trust in Jesus.

Verse 6 is quoted in Hebrews 10:5 Sacrifice and offerings You did not desire, but a body you prepared for Me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased. In the Old Testament sacrificial system the burnt offering was an atonement for sin. A lamb, bull, goat, or pigeon was killed then burnt whole as an aroma pleasing to the LORD. It was a costly and extravagant offering. No part of it was to be eaten by any human. The life of the animal took the place of the life of the person, in order for the person to gain forgiveness for their sin.

Now, remember, JtB called Jesus the Lamb of God. Way back in Genesis 22:7-8 Abraham is obedient even to the extent of offering his long-awaited son to God, when Isaac asks, Father…the fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Later on, in Exodus 12 (think back to the 1st Passover) The Israelite slaves in Egypt were to select a 1 year old male lamb without defect. They were to kill it, then sprinkle its blood over their doorways, so when the angel of death swept through Egypt, claiming each first born son, those Israelites who had been obedient were spared. They had been saved by the blood of the lamb. Still later, in Isaiah 53:7 He [the suffering Servant, Jesus] was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth. This is part of Isaiah’s predictions of how Messiah would die (3rd Servant Song); the prophet refers to Messiah as a lamb. Jesus is the once and for all perfect sacrifice for our sins. His right standing with God is now applied to us.

Our readings today not only demonstrate how we learn about Christ—often one person teaching another—but also how precious is the gift Jesus made of Himself for us. We can and should be grateful to whoever led us to Christ. We can and should, as well, be grateful to Christ for His saving work on our behalf—how incredibly vital this is!

Furthermore, we can and should be about the business of leading others to Christ! Ask the Lord to set before you this week those He desires you to tell about Jesus. Trust in Him to prepare their hearts to hear what you have to say. Trust also in Him to give you the opportunity, the courage, and the words to say.

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

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Pastor Sherry Adams

Jesus is the Only One!

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 8, 2023

Scriptures: Isa 42:1-9; Ps 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matt 3:13-17

How many of you bothered to make New Year’s Resolutions this year? I made one. Normally, mine are on the order of pray more, read more Scripture, offer people more grace, and so on. But the one I made this year was to listen to Christian music—all types—more often. A clergy friend had asked me when I had felt closest to Jesus this Christmas. I told her that it was during our services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, due to Joy’s singing. You may remember she sang, “Jesu Bambino—O Holy Night” on Christmas Eve, and the soprano aria from Handel’s “Messiah” on Christmas Day, “Rejoice, O Daughters of Jerusalem.” As I sat listening, tears ran down my face. Her beautiful singing lifted my soul right into the throne room of Heaven! I felt like I was in the presence of the Lord.

So, I have resolved to make it a practice to listen to Christian music daily ever since. My new favorite CD is Casting Crown’s “Thrive” album from 2013 (Yikes, it’s 10 years old!) Nevertheless, the group consists of 7 members and their voices and harmonies are wonderful. Some of their songs have a blue-grass banjo accompaniment which I totally love.

I think their song entitled, “You are the Only One” is particularly relevant to our Scripture lessons today:

One more mother with a broken heart;

One more family is torn apart;

One more orphan out in the cold;

One more fear that takes control;

One more tangled in the same old lies;

One more shackled to the same old highs; [how’s that for a

description of addiction?]

One more scared of what tomorrow brings;

And one more chasing yesterday.

Lord, let your Kingdom come!

Who can right every wrong? You are the Only One.

Who can calm every storm? You are the Only One. You alone are Father, Savior, Spirit, Healer, Redeemer, Lord of All!

A. The prophet Isaiah (42:1-9) provides the 1st of four Servant Songs, all of which describe the coming Messiah—and all of which, as it turns out, match Jesus perfectly. In verse 1, God reveals that Messiah/Jesus is My Servant, Whom I uphold [support or back], My Chosen One in Whom I delight. Jesus had the Father’s complete confidence. He also has God’s complete approval. In our Gospel lesson today, Matthew (3:13-17) reports Jesus’ baptism. The Father speaks a blessing over Him from on high (v.17) This is My Son, Whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. The Father announces He loves Jesus and that He is proud of Him. Jesus begins His public ministry with His heavenly Father’s blessing. God further asserts in Isaiah 42:1 that He wiil empower Jesus with His Holy Spirit. Matthew shares that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at His baptism (v.16). There it is—at His baptism, Jesus is given supernatural power and authority from the Father to perform signs and wonders. There are some false gospels that claim Jesus healed wounded birds and revived crushed butterflies as a child. These lack veracity because our Lord had not yet been empowered to heal. Now, at His baptism, Jesus is granted God’s power to help and deliver, to administer God’s justice, and to speak God’s truth.

Through Isaiah, God the Father goes on to reveal Jesus’ character and ministry: He will be a different kind of King. Rather than being a military warrior, fighting to vanquish the Romans and any other Israelite foes, He will minister kindly to bruised reeds and smoldering wicks…these are poetic metaphors for people like you and me, those of us who are broken and who need a healer. He will not run roughshod over those who grieve or who are denied justice. No, He will listen gently and will respond with mercy, compassion, and love. Additionally, while He may look and act like He is meek and mild, He will actually stand strong in His God-given, God-supported, God-empowered confidence. No one will be able to make Him do what He doesn’t choose to do.

Furthermore, He will not just rescue God’s Chosen, the Jews, but He will also be (v.6) a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness (shades of Isaiah 61:1, His job description to come). This is what Peter is referring to as he witnesses to the Gentile centurion, Cornelius, in Acts 10:34-43. Though Jesus’ originally came to the House of Israel, Peter realized Jesus’ message was for anyone who would believe—regardless of nationality. He says, (v.34) I know realized how ture it is that God does not show favoritism. What a great line! Thank God—in the all too familiar rhetoric of the day—our Lord is not a racial bigot! Peter goes on the present the Gospel message—Jesus Christ lived among us, died for our sins, and rose again demonstrating His power over both death and sin. He came to save all who believe in Him. Peter affirms this as he closes his sermon with these wonderful, reassuring words (v.43) All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes [Gentile, Jew, or whoever] receives forgiveness of sins through His name.

This is a great cue for Casting Crown’s chorus:

Lord, let Your Kingdom Come!

Who can right every wrong? You are the Only One.

Who can calm every storm? You are the Only One.

You alone are Father, Savior, Spirit, Healer, Redeemer, Lord of All!

B. Our Psalm (29) reminds us, through storm metaphors, of the power of God. King David wrote it and wants us to realize that God is mightier and more powerful than the greatest storm (hurricane, tornado, blizzard, typhoon, etc.). Emphasizing God, David cites His name, the LORD, 18 times in 11 verses; and describes the [formidable] voice of the LORD, 7 times. David wants us to know that the Lord is able to see us safely through all the storms of life! Additionally, we know from experience that the storms in our lives eventually come to an end. How often during a particularly trying time in my life have I reminded myself, This too shall pass away (1 John 2:17)? This depression will lift, this physical pain will ease, this financial hardship will lessen, this strained relationship will either improve or come to an end. How do we know this? Because we remember that our God is able to rescue us from–and to be present with us during—the trials and disappointments of life. Because we have Jesus!

We worship a God Who is not only powerful enough to rescue us but also is able to redeems our pain and transform our lives. As the song, “You are the Only One” testifies, due to Jesus…

One more skeptic to believe;

One more prisoner has been set free;

One more longs to be Your hands and feet;

One more standing for the least of these;

One more praying in the morning light;

One more shining in the darkest night;

One more life worth fighting for;

No greater love worth dying for.

Lord, let Your Kingdom come! Let Your will be done!

I want to know You more;

I want to make You known;

I want this world to see that You’re alive in me.

Jesus, You’re the Only One (Father , Savior, Spirit, Healer);

You are the Only One (Redeemer, Lord of all);

You are the Only One!

Thank you, Jesus—You are the Only One! Amen!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Come, Let Us Adore Him.

Pastor Sherry’s message for New Year’s Day, 2023

Scriptures: Isa 60:1-6; Ps 72:1-14; Eph 3:1-12; Matt 2:1-12

Today is Epiphany Sunday. The word, Epiphany means manifestation (of God), and marks an encounter with God. On January 6th—or the Sunday closest to it—we celebrate the fact that God showed up to eager, Gentile Maji who had traveled hundreds of miles to see and worship Him. These were the 1st non-Jews to come adore the baby Jesus.

Their visit to Bethlehem represents the fact that the birth of Christ was of momentous significance to all people of the world.

A friend told me recently a story of a children’s Christmas Pageant: Young children portraying Joseph and Mary, and a doll for baby Jesus were seated center-stage. Some shepherds and kids dressed as sheep entered from the left and said their lines. But when the 5 year old kings arrived, they developed stage fright and froze in their tracks. Four year old Mary knew what they were supposed to do, and being a bossy little thing, yelled out, “Just come over here and bring your gifts of gold, common sense, and fur.”

Our readings today all want us to realize that God the Father always intended Jesus to show up and be worshipped by all people—not just His Chosen Ones.

Matthew–intent on proving to the Jews that Jesus is their long-awaited Messiah–is the only Gospel-writer to include the story of the visit of the Maji (Matthew 2:1-12). Matthew doesn’t really clarify who they were, or where they were from. Tradition and song refer to them as “kings,” probably based on the 10th verse we recited this morning from Psalm 72 May the kings of Tarshish [Spain] and of the isles render Him tribute; may the kings of Sheba [Yemen] and Seba [Sudan] bring gifts. But the Greek historian, Herodotus, writes that the priestly caste of the Medes [Iran] were called Magi.

We can find mentions of magi also in the Old Testament books of Esther, Jeremiah, and Daniel. Jeremiah and Daniel both describe the Magi as wise and highly educated men who served in the Babylonian [Iraqi] court. They were the doctors, scientists, mathematicians and legal experts of their day. They were also well trained in astronomy, astrology, and magic (Daniel’s specialty was interpreting dreams, a gift from the Holy Spirit).

In fact, the Magi served as advisors to the king. In Daniel 2:48, King Nebuchadnezzar makes Daniel master of all his Magi. Perhaps Daniel, and the other Jews living among them, shared their faith in Israel’s One, True God with their Magi associates. Perhaps they also shared with them prophecies regarding the Coming Messiah. We don’t know for sure, but it is quite possible that they were familiar with the predictions from Numbers 24:17 A star shall come forth from Jacob (meaning Israel), and a scepter (indicative of a king’s rule) shall rise from Israel… and from Micah 5:6 But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel. These 2 passages foretold of a special star to mark a king being born in Bethlehem of Judea.

What we do know for sure is that the Magi came a great distance from the East, bringing gifts to Jesus. They followed a star that led them westward. And then that star supernaturally stopped and remained over the house in Bethlehem to which Jesus and Mary had moved. (After the census had been taken, many returned to their homes elsewhere, so the tight housing problem in Bethlehem opened up, allowing the Holy Family to move out of the stable.) As Matthew describes it, the Magi gifted Jesus with gold, frankinsense, and myrrh.

We really don’t know how many of them there were. Tradition cites three because there were three gifts: Gold for royalty; Frankincense, a fragrant incense used by priests in worship; and myrrh, a pain-killer and a substance used for embalming a dead prophet or king. Their gifts exactly match Jesus’ 3-fold ministries of king, priest, and prophet.

But since their arrival caused a big buzz in Jerusalem and they had no trouble getting in to see King Herod, there were probably more. Paintings from the 2nd-3rd centuries depict 4. Other ancient records cite 12. And, due to the prevalence of highwaymen and robbers who often attacked travelers in those days, they would have been accompanied by armed guards for protection, as well as servants and animal handlers. So surely more than 3 important guys on camels made the trip.

Matthew cites Isaiah’s prophesy, Isaiah 60:1-2 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you! In chapter 59, Isaiah had predicted that the Redeemer would come to Zion (Jerusalem). But in chapter 60, he uses something unique to Hebrew writing called the prophetic tense. In this tense, the prophet appears to have moved ahead of his prediction, and writes looking back on it as if it has already happened. So, instead of “the Redeemer is coming,” he boldly asserts, “He has come.” Jesus is the glory of the Lord, as well as the light of the world. Even though the times are evil and dark, in His 2nd Coming, Jesus—the revealed glory of God–will also be the light source for the world. Revelation tells us that one of the final plagues God sends on a those who have not been raptured (the Church) or martryed (non-believers who come to believe during the 7 years of the Great Tribulation), in a last ditch effort to bring them to faith, the sun, moon, and stars will disappear. There will be no light at all. Jesus will overcome evil, once and for all, and will reign as the King of the Universe and Light of the World.

Remember, Malachai predicted (4:2) that The day is coming, raging like a forest fire. All the arrogant people who do evil things will be burned up like stove wood, burned to a crisp, nothing left but scorched earth and ash—a black day. But for you, sunrise! The sun of righteousness will dawn on those who honor My name, healing radiating from its wings. You will be bursting with enegy, like colts frisky and folicking (Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, p.1738). Spiritual darkness will be overcome by the Light (power and might) of Christ.

Verse 3 Nations [Gentiles] will come to Your light, and kings to the brightness of Your dawn. Gentile and Jewish believers will flock to Jerusalem to see and worship Jesus when He comes again. This will be the world’s greatest revival! Again, bear in mind that the Church will have been raptured/removed from earth into heaven. Of those who remain on earth, a large percentage of nonbelievers (60%?) will lose their lives during the plagues God will send to earth during the Great Tribulation. Those who will have come to Christ during the Great Tribulation, and who survive those dreadful times, will be the ones who flock to Jerusalem. They will come by land, sea, or air.

In what seems an exact preview of our Matthew passage, verse 6 says, And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense, and proclaiming the praise of the Lord. These God-fearing, Jesus-loving folks will descend upon Jerusalem with gifts for Christ the King. Just as will the Magi at Jesus’ 1st Coming, they will bring gold and incense (perhaps frankincense?). But since there will be no more death, there will be no need for myrrh—and myrrh is omitted.

Paul, in Ephesians 3:1-12, calls himself a prisoner of Christ and the apostle to the Gentiles. He is writing to the Ephesian church from prison in Rome, jailed for preaching the Gospel. He wants the Ephesians and us to know that the Christian Church is a divine mystery–not in the sense of a who-done-it novel–but rather as an innovation of Jesus’, unknown and therefore not mentioned previously in the Old Testament. Furthermore, he asserts that Christ intended the Church is God’s method of reaching the Gentiles, both to demonstrate the love and the wisdom of God.

We demonstrate God’s love by being loving and grace-filled toward others. We demonstrate wisdom by believing in what God has revealed in Scripture and by sharing it with others. This is how we pass on the light of Christ.

Finally our Psalm is a prayer for the new King Solomon written by his father, King David. It is thouight that it was prayed at Solomon’s coronation ceremony. David prays that his son will so love justice and righteousness, that it will be as though Solomon’s rule will reflect the rule of God Himself. Originally, Solomon asked God for the gift of wisdom and he did rule wisely and well for a time, so much so that folks came from all over to hear him dispense wisdom in judgment. However, he later allowed his many pagan wives to influence him away from the Lord. Eventually and sadly, he appears to have abandoned the One True God for idolatry.

David also prophetically expresses his faith in the goodness of the coming Messiah. It is He Who will (v.8) rule from sea to sea and from the River [the Euphrates] to the ends of the earth. Jesus will be a righteous King. All kings of the earth shall bow before Him (v.11). And, (v.14) He will also rescue the needy and the afflicted from oppression and violence.

Aren’t we grateful for Jesus? As we begin the New Year, let’s be mindful of God’s gift to us in Jesus. We may not bring Him gold, frankincense and myrrh—or even gold, common sense, and fur—but we can give Him our hearts, our faith, our obedience; and our gratitude.

Happy New Year! Come, let us adore Him!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Miracle of Christmas

Pastor Sherry’s message for December 25, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 52:7-10; Ps 98; Heb 1:1-4; Jn 1:1-14

The story is told of a man who struggled to believe God would send His Son to earth to redeem us. The man said to himself, “There is no point to a God who becomes man,” he mused. “Why would an all-powerful God want to share even one of His precious moments with the likes of man? And even if He did, why would He choose to be born in an animal stall? No way! The whole thing is absurd! I’m sure that if God really wanted to come down to earth, He would have chosen some other way.”

“Suddenly, the man was roused from his reverie by a strange sound outside. He went to the window and saw a small gaggle of blue geese frantically honking and aimlessly flopping about in the snow. They seemed dazed and confused. Apparently they had dropped out in exhaustion from the flight formations of a larger flock on its way from the Arctic Islands to the warmer climes of the Gulf of Mexico. Moved to compassion, the man tried to “shoo” the poor geese into his warm garage, but the more he “shooed” the more they panicked.

“’If they only realized I’m only trying to do what’s best for them,” he thought to himself. “How can I make them understand my concern for their well-being?” Then, this thought came to him: “If for just a minute, I could become one of them, an ordinary goose, and communicate with them in their own language, they would know what I am trying to do.” And suddenly … suddenly, he remembered Christmas and a smile came over his face. Suddenly, the Christmas story no longer seemed absurd. Suddenly, he pictured that ordinary-looking infant, lying in the manger, in that stable in Bethlehem, and he knew the answer to his Christmas problem: God had become one of us to tell us that He loves us.“ (Borrowed from the TCM website, 12/19/2022, author’s name unknown.)

This Christmas illustration is meant to remind us of the real miracle of Christmas: That Jesus Christ—the sovereign King of the Universe, seated in heaven at the right hand of God the Father, the seat of power–would take on flesh and become one of us in order to speak our language/ to get through to us and to save us from destruction.

Our scripture lessons today leave no doubt that Christmas is a miracle:

A. The writer to the Hebrews (1:1-4) wants us to know that Jesus Christ is superior in position and power to all of the prophets who have lived and to all of the angels in heaven and on earth. Previously, God had spoken to humankind through prophets He ordained to convey His thoughts to us. Less often, He communicated through angelic beings who came with specific messages to particular persons. And, then He made His thoughts known to us through the 45 Holy-Spirit-inspired authors of the Old Testament written over 1500 years. But with the birth of Jesus, the Father has spoken to us through His Son, the full revelation of God: (v.3) The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His [the Father’s] being, sustaining of all things by His powerful word. Or, as Peterson paraphrases it in his The Message, By His Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God’s nature. He holds everything together by what He says—powerful words.

B. That theme of the power of The Word/the Divine Logos is spelled out for us in John 1:1-14.

First, let’s look at where John begins. Matthew and Luke each start with Jesus’ birth, Matthew from Joseph’s perspective and Luke, from Mary’s. Mark omits the birth narratives altogether and jumps into the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. But John starts with the beginning of time and space! Verse 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Before creation took place, Jesus was present. Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, was with God, distinct from the Father; but also, Jesus, the Word, was God, part of the same deity as the Father. Like the Father, Jesus is fully divine! Verse 2 He was with God in the beginningThe Father and the Son have always co-existed. The Son did not come into being at His incarnation. He, like the Father, has existed forever.

Verse 3 Through Him all things were made and without Him, nothing was made that has been made. John sometimes repeats things to help insure that we don’t miss his point. Jesus made everything. John knows Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He just does not want us to miss the fact that Jesus was present at Creation. You see, the Father conceived the plan; and the Son, the agent of creation, spoke it into existence. Jesus brought all things to life because He is the life-force (the way, the truth and the life, John 14:6)!

Verse 4 What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. John makes a word play, in the original Greek, on life and light. Spiritually speaking, Jesus’ life brings light into ours. Later, Jesus will say, I am the light of the world (John 8:12) and I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). So, as God He is both light and life, and willingly offers both to us.

Verse 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. He came to dispel the darkness, the darkness surrounding us today: unbelief, sin, death, oppression, bondage, violence, the power of evil. But because we have free will, some of us will miss His gift. Some of us will refuse to believe in Him. Some of us will continue to live in spiritual darkness.

Verse 10 But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God. Those of us who believe in Him are not His biological heirs, or heirs through any human effort, but we are spiritual children of God, through Christ’s blood and the Father’s plan. You see, those of us who have accepted God’s perfect gift—Jesus—receive another gift: the privilege to become daughters or sons of God.

As if that weren’t enough, (v.14)🡪The Word [Jesus] became flesh and made His dwelling among us! This is a total break from all non-Christian thought–the agent of Creation becomes a Creature! Jesus encased Himself in baby flesh and comes to earth as one of us. If I were in charge, I would have had Him come as a King or as a victorious general. But God, in His wisdom, has Him arrive as a vulnerable and totally dependent, nonthreatening babe.

There has never been—nor will there ever be–a human as important as Jesus Christ! He is fully God, and He is fully human. What a miracle!

C and D.Our final two readings look forward to Christ’s millennial reign on earth, His second coming. The Isaiah passage (52:7-10) speaks to what it will be like when what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer comes to passThy kingdom come. Jesus’ rule and reign on earth will be fabulous! Peace, justice, mercy, grace and forgiveness will characterize the behavior of all people. There will be no more wars, murders, illness, death, sexual assaults, human trafficking, slavery, injustice, lying, fraud, etc. Can you even imagine such a state? How wonderful! No wonder everyone will experience great joy!

Our Psalm too (98) celebrates the righteous reign of Christ. Verse 1 Sing to the Lord a new song for He has done marvelous things! The psalmist predicts how joyous celebration will begin in the congregation (Christian Church and Synagogue of Messianic believers); then it will spread to all humans; and finally will impact all of creation. Remember, God cursed the serpent and the ground at the Fall, but not the people. Paul tells us (Romans 8:20-22) For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it [God the Father], in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God [waiting on the Second Coming of Jesus Christ].

At His 2nd Coming, the Righteous Judge will set all things right. That is a miracle for which I can hardly wait!

So we say, “Happy Birthday, Lord Jesus, on this Christmas Day, 2022!” Thank you for taking on flesh and dwelling among us! Thank you for saving us from the penalty for our sins! Today,

“May our Christmas gifts remind us of God’s greatest gift, His only Son.
May our Christmas candles remind us of Him who is the “Light of the world.”
May our Christmas trees remind us of another tree upon which He died.
May our Christmas cheer remind us of Him who said, “Be of good cheer.”
May our Christmas feast remind us of Him who is “the Bread of Life.”
May our Christmas bells remind us of the glorious proclamation of His birth.
May our Christmas carols remind us of the Son of whom the angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest!”
May our Christmas season remind us in every way of Jesus Christ our King!”

(Again, borrowed from the TCM website, 12/19/2022, author’s name unknown.)

Blessed Christmas to each one of you!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Christmas Eve 2022

Pastor Sherry’s message for December 24, 2022

Tonight you have heard read 8 passages (Gen 3:8-15; Isa 9:2-7; Isa 35:1-10; Mic 5:2-4; Lk 1:26-38; Lk 1:59-79; Tit 2:11-14; and Lk 2:1-20) all foretelling or describing Jesus as our promised Messiah. They all reference Him in some way. Most were written hundreds of years before His 1st Coming, and some even pertain to His 2nd Coming. Tonight, at this candlelight service celebrating the eve of His birth, I want to focus entirely on the Genesis passage, Genesis 3:8-15.

It might surprise you to find intimations of Jesus from the very beginning of recorded time. You see, God created humans knowing we could never be (by our own efforts) holy enough, obedient enough—this side of heaven—to dwell in His presence. Like Adam and Eve, we fall into sin too easily. We don’t know how many days or weeks Adam and Eve hung out with God in the cool of the day before they sinned. Scripture suggests that their meetings together had become a habit. However, one of my seminary professors, recognizing the seductive allure of sin and our own weaknesses, thought they probably did not last even a day before capitulating to sin (eating the fruit from the forbidden tree).

So, even as He was pronouncing their punishment, God revealed His redemptive plan for human kind. This was not a plan B, but His plan from the foundation of the earth. He loved us so much that He and Jesus agreed Jesus would come to earth and take the penalty of our sins upon Himself.

His shed blood washed away our sins, past, present, and future. In a magnificent exchange, He took our sinfulness and gifted us with His righteousness. We are cleansed from our sins by Jesus’ selfless actions.

Our Genesis passage is thus called by theologians the Proto-Evangelion —The Gospel in the Old Testament, written centuries before the New Testament Gospel accounts unfolded. Because he seduced Adam and Eve, Satan is cursed (v.14) by God. Satan is called a serpent in Genesis and we think snake. However, some biblical scholars believe Satan is a “shape-shifter” (able to take on different shapes at will) and probably originally appeared as a dragon (which is how he is characterized in the book of Revelation). The fact that God tells him he will eat dust all the days of his life means he is ultimately defeated. It also means that God effectively “clipped his wings.” God says that His followers and the serpent will be at continuous war with each other. Satan will think he has won this conflict when he wounds our Lord (at His trials and on the Cross); but, Christ’s substitutionary death on the Cross—and His subsequent resurrection–will be the means by which Jesus demonstrates His victory over death and Satan. It will appear as though the snake has bitten the Lord’s heel. However, Jesus, the seed of the woman [Mary] will crush Satan’s head. Again, until Jesus’ 2nd Coming, humans and the devil will, throughout all history, struggle against each other. There is a reason for our difficulties here on earth. We are encouraged to power through with faith. (Later, Jesus says, In this world you will have trouble, but fear not for I have overcome the world—John 16:33.)

But God the Father, in His love and compassion for us, engineered His divine rescue plan. Jesus Christ, who came to earth the first time as a helpless, vulnerable baby to save us, will come again in all His power and glory, and defeat Satan for all time.

At Christmas, and at all other times, let us express our gratitude to God…who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Alleluia, alleluia!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Hopeful Readiness

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 27, 2022

Scriptures: 11/27/2019, Isa 2:1-5; Ps 122; Ro 1:11-14; Matt 24:36-44

In a sermon by a preacher named Mark Schaeufele, I heard the following story:

“The Butterball Turkey company [had] set up a hotline to answer consumer questions about preparing holiday turkeys. One woman called to inquire about cooking a turkey that had been in her freezer for 23 years. The operator told her it might be safe if the freezer had been kept below 0 degrees the entire time. But the operator warned the woman that, even if it were safe, the flavor had probably deteriorated, and she wouldn’t recommend eating it. The caller replied, “That’s what we thought. We’ll just give it to the church.”

That, like you, made me laugh! Now I could go on to preach about giving God our best–not a 23 year old frozen turkey—but instead I want us to consider how prepared we are for Christ’s 2nd Coming. If the lady of the joke had been stocking-piling frozen food for 23+ years, we might assume she is ready for any earthly emergency (hurricane, sunami, tornado, volcano, deadly virus, etc.). But is she, and are you, spiritually ready?

This is what our Scriptures address this morning. They all ask the question, “Are we ready for the Second Advent?” Now you may be thinking, “Wait just a minute…I’m doing my best to get ready to celebrate the first Advent, the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus:

(1) I’ve donated a Shoe-box or two, or 20.
(2) I’m baking Christmas cookies and fruit cakes like my hair’s on fire.

(3) I’m decorating my place…inside and out.

(4) I’m gathering gifts from weeks of Black Friday sales.

(5) I’m beginning to write out Christmas cards;

(6) I’m humming Christmas carols in the shower.

(7) We are anticipating Christmas on the Square and the Christmas parade in Live Oak.

(8) The grandchildren and great grandchildren are talking up their Santa lists and are already beyond excited!

(9) Why, we have even decorated the Church—thanks to all of you who came out to help—and lit our first Advent candle, the candle of Hope!

We really are getting ready for Christmas, but our lessons today aren’t about the First Noel. The Mass of Christ (that is where we get the word, Christmas) focuses on the past and the present. Past: Jesus’ birth in a manger long ago; Present: Our attempts to live out that magnanimous love of God the Father—in gifting us with His Only Begotten Son—in our lives today. But Advent also focuses on Jesus’ future return.

To facilitate our hopeful readiness for this future return, our lessons today spotlight the Second Coming of Christ, as the King!

A. Isaiah 2:1-5 Our OT lesson is clearly a Messianic Prophecy: Verse 2 speaks of…the last days….This is a Blibical expression for the end of time. It refers not to when bad things start to happen—like the Great Tribulation—but to when Jesus establishes His Millennial rule and reign on the earth (after He has defeated Satan and evil at the Battle of Armageddon). Several things will happen then:

(1) (V.2) The mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains. The mountain of the Lord is Mount Zion, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But mountain also means the kingdom, the authority, the rule of Jesus. So we could read the sentence this way: The rule of Jesus will be established as chief among all rulers. Right now, Moslems control or rule the Temple Mount. The Mosque of Omar sits on the former site of the Jewish Temple, and most holy sites are controlled by Christian gentiles rather than Jews. But in the future Advent, God’s Holy Temple will be re-established on Mt. Zion with Jesus and the Father as its residents, and as a gathering place for all Christ-followers.

(2) Jerusalem will become the world center of both government and religion. There will be one, Christ-centered world order. You hear occasionally now calls for a “total world order,” including using the same currency, etc. But don’t be fooled. This is a secular movement, not a movement of God. In the last days, however, we will learn God’s will for us—if we haven’t already–and we will do His will, gladly, joyfully.

(3) Jesus will judge disputes between nations and settle them so He will create true peace. As Isaiah predicts in verse 4 They [all people] will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks [weapons will be turned into farming implements]. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. There will be no need for the service academies, military bases, warships or planes, or standing armies. Imagine a world totally at peace.

(4) So, Isaiah urges us to walk in the light of the LORD as we await King Jesus’ return. We should act like we know Jesus is looking—because He is–and we should wait for Him in hopeful readiness.

B. Psalm 122 is a Psalm of Ascent, sung by faithful Jews as they walked uphill toward Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. However, it is also a Messianic prophesy, looking forward to the time when all of the tribes of the Jews will be reunited in Israel and will worship God–and Jesus– in Jerusalem. Hosea 3:4-5 is not one of our lessons appointed for today, but it repeats or echoes this prophecy For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice [as they are doing right now, today]….Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king [Jesus, David’s descendant]. They will come trembling to the Lord and to His blessings in the last days. In other words, in the last days, the Jews will finally have accepted Jesus as the rightful Messiah.

It may be difficult for us to envision this grand reunion of Jews and Gentiles who all love Jesus, but if we believe Scripture, we can await it with hopeful readiness.

C. Romans 13:11-14 Paul focuses on how we treat our neighbors. He says, in so many words, we demonstrate love for our neighbors in what we do, rather than in what we say. Just prior to this passage, he reminds us not to break the 10 Commandments (not commit adultery, murder, steal, or covet—all sins against others). Then, he goes on to exhort us to Wake up! Because Jesus is coming again! In verse 12 he declares …the night is nearly over, by which he means this present evil age. He goes on to say, The day is almost here, meaning the long awaited second appearing of Jesus Christ. We want to be ready by avoiding, as best we can, deeds of darkness—sins…and to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, Paul is exhorting us to put Christ first in our lives, and to display outwardly what has taken place inwardly within us. Simply put, Paul wants us to practice all the virtues associated with Jesus, as we wait with hopeful readiness….

D. Matthew 24:36-44 In this passage, Jesus is describing when He will come again. 1st of all, no one knows when that will be–not even Jesus! Then He offers us two metaphors to encourage us to be ready:

(1) When Noah built the ark, no one else much believed it would rain enough to require a large boat; but, it did! And those who had not listened to the Lord (through Noah), and had ridiculed him, drowned. It was a time of great immorality—much like today–and all gross sinners perished.

(2) Burglars tend to come to our homes at night, or when we are away. If we want to thwart a robbery, we need to be prepared. We lock our doors. We have a dog, a burglar alarm, or a gun to ensure our safety. We keep our important papers and jewelry in a safe or bank deposit box. Similarly, Jesus is warning us to be prepared, to be ready. Going back to the issues at hand—Jesus’ 2nd Coming–we should live each day as though it is our last.

All of our lessons exhort us to be hopeful and ready. We can’t just count on looking like we are right with the Lord when He shows up again. We need to practice, daily, being surrendered to His will; and trying, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to live in a way that pleases Jesus.

We could say, then, that Advent is really a “wake up call.” We never really know when the God-moment (2nd Coming) is going to arrive, so we have to be ready all the time. This readiness is not a matter of hanging decorations, baking cookies, sending out Christmas cards, or attending holiday parties—though those things are all fine and good. This readiness is developed by establishing tenderness/love in our hearts, for God and others. It is a willingness in our spirits to hear God’s Word and go God’s way.

Remember, our God has a habit of sneaking up on people, often making appearances in unusual ways, through unlikely people, in unexpected places. In the 1st Advent, it was thru “a little baby, the child of an unwed, teenaged mother, in a dirty, smelly cow-stall, on the other side of nowhere.” (Stated by Fairless and Chilton, The Lectionary Lab, A, 2013, p.4). Who knows when or where God will show up again? It could be this afternoon, or tomorrow, or Christmas Day. But whenever it comes, we need to be awake, hopeful and prepared! Amen!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams