Clouds! Oh My!

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 14, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 5:1-9; Ps 80:1-2, 8-19; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Lk 12:49-56

College football gets underway in less than 20 days. But this year, without Mick Hubert, the sports announcing voice of the University of Florida Fighting Gators for 33 years, who just retired in May. Gator football will not sound the same without him.

According to Wikipedia, Mick “… first came to prominence after the Gators’ last-minute win at Kentucky on September 11, 1993. [The Gators went on to win the SEC Championship that season]. His energetic yelling of “DOERING’S GOT A TOUCHDOWN! DOERING’S GOT A TOUCHDOWN! OHHHH MY!” in describing the game-winning touchdown pass from Danny Wuerffel [UF’s Heisman winning quarterback in 1996] to Chris Doering [a current announcer on ESPN] was extensively replayed on national sports networks and became so well known that it was featured in the ESPN films documentary “More than a Voice” almost thirty years later.”

If you ever listened to him broadcast a Gator football game, you know he got very excited. He would often single out good players for their contributions: “Touchdown! Taylor-Made!” when Fred Taylor, a running back from 1994-97, scored; or “Dallas Baker, Touchdown maker!” whenever Dallas, a wide-receiver from 2003-06, “took it to the house.” One of my favorite Mick-isms was his expression for when a Gator receiver caught the ball all alone in the end-zone. He would yell, “Oh My!’ paired with “Quarantined! All alone!”

If we could get as excited about Scripture as Mick did about football, our Hebrews lesson today truly deserves several “Oh My’s!” The writer to the Hebrews cites a long line of heroes as well as martyrs for the faith. Our passage today begins with the Red Sea Crossing. The 2 million-strong Children of Israel lacked faith. They saw they were trapped at the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army behind them, and they wanted to run back to Egypt! But Moses trusted in God, spread out his staff over the water, and watched God part it so they could walk across on dry land!

Jericho, the first city they come to in the Promised Land, was fortified with thick walls designed to protect an arrogant but despicable group of pagans. Joshua, God’s military commander, is told to walk around it, once a day, for 6 days; then 7 times the 7th day…and the walls fell down! Joshua and the Israelites had the victory over the citizens of Jericho because Joshua believed in God. He believed enough to do what would seem ridiculous to other generals. And then he conquered the city, riding in on God’s efforts. Rahab, a prostitute of Jericho, is saved because she had heard stories of the Hebrew God, believed in Him, and hid the 2 Hebrew spies Joshua had sent in to scout the city.

The writer goes on to list other Old Testament greats who also lived out their faith in God: Gideon, a weakling from the weakest family in the weakest tribe, obliterated a huge Midianite army with just 300 men plus God. Some of those listed—like Samson and Barak–were not as faith-filled as others, but all allowed God to use them to accomplish His purposes.

Ultimately, they knew they could trust in God and they acted on that belief.

This kind of faith is not just a belief statement of faith, but it is belief in action (Faith or pistuo in the New Testament Greek, is not just a noun but it is also a verb, as in faithing). We don’t just have faith, but we do faith. We live it out. Oh My!

At the end of our Hebrews passage, the writer reminds us that we are …surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. Hold it, hold it! Shouldn’t that word be crowd not cloud? Well, who are we to argue words with God? And think about the imagery of cloud in Scripture. It’s a theophany, a sign of God’s presence. The Israelites in the wilderness were led by a cloud, God’s presence, during the day. When they saw the cloud move out, they packed up their tents and followed it. When Moses went up Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments, he disappeared into a cloud because God was there. Jesus, on the Mount of Transfiguration, was enveloped by a cloud and also shone with blinding light—both signs of God’s presence. So a company of saints who have gone before us–along with God, Himself–are watching us from heaven. Are we going to be a faithful like the heroes of Hebrews 11? Will they exclaim, “Praise God!” or “Oh My!” over us?

Alternatively, the passage could mean, these folks all witnessed to us by the ways they lived their lives. They are models for us of how to live a life that exudes faith. Coach Bobby Bowden, the now deceased former coach of the Florida State Seminoles, used to respond to critics calling them “Play Station All Americans.” He meant that it was easy to play a football video game and think you were good enough to call plays. However, experience with video games does not quite equate with live experience on the field. This great cloud of witnesses were not armchair believers, but they put feet to their faith.

Notice that writer to the Hebrews then encourages us to (12:1-2) …throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the Author and Perfector of our faith. We don’t want to allow anything to get in the way of our trust, our belief, our ”faithing” in Jesus. We want to be as trusting as any of those commemorated here.

Let’s now focus on how the Hebrews passage relates to today’s Gospel, Luke 12:49-56.

Jesus first talks about what our faith can cost us: It can and does divide us from our non-believing culture. There are times we clearly may feel out of step with what is going on around us. It is because we walk to the beat of a different drummer, Jesus Christ. Our faith may also divide us from those of our families who choose not to believe in Him. Nearly all of us can cite example of relatives who cannot or will not accept that Jesus is Lord. It introduces a painful separation. It can and does result in differences in the way we speak and in the ways we act—to such a degree that it can even be uncomfortable to be around each other. They may write us off as “Bible-thumpers,” “fanatics,” and “holier than thou” people. Or, worse yet, they may believe we are intolerant or bigoted.

Then Jesus goes on to tell them (and us) to be aware of signs that are important. They and we can sometimes interpret weather patterns. We know that dark clouds gather and the wind picks up just before it storms. A green sky and funnel clouds mean tornadoes are coming. The calm following a hurricane’s wind and rain does not mean the danger is past—just that they eye of the storm is overhead—and we have a blessed breather.

Jesus is not unhappy that we recognize the meanings of these kinds of signs. He just wants us to be able to also interpret the signs of the times as well (social and spiritual). Some examples of these include the following:

1.) The FBI raids a former president’s home—regardless of party affiliation. Politically, it appears to be an attempt to discredit and invalidate a political enemy. Spiritually it is motivated by anger, rage, the desire for revenge, and the urge to gain more power.

2.) The culture chides us to honor transgender athletes, then refuses to listen to a father who does not want his little girl undressing in the same locker room with an older male turned female. This practice is said to be about equal rights for transgender persons, a tiny minority (1%) in America today. However, it violates the rights to privacy and safety of our children and threatens to eliminate girls sports as we know it. Few girls can compete successfully against the larger stature and musculature of a male turned female. Spiritually, it is an attack on the family and on our children’s well-being.

3.) I have said before that the Progressive Agenda ultimately desires to replace our democratic republic with a form of communism. It is Marxist at its basic foundational principles. It is anti-Christian. If it’s so great a form of government, why do people try to escape it? Think of this: There is no place on earth, ever, where this form of government has led to freedom for the majority. Folks always say, “this time, we will do it better.” But remember God inspired Jeremiah to say (17:19) the heart is deceitful above all things; by this our Lord means we can and will justify anything we want to do. Pair this with what the British Lord Acton said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Together these two truths strongly state that probably only a perfect person, like Jesus, could be in total control of a country and not become an oppressor. Progressive ideology is a front for a Satan-inspired dictatorship.

Jesus asks us to look beyond the face-value of an event and view it from what it demonstrates—or plays out—socially and societally. What are its ramifications? He also wants us to consider what it means from a spiritual standpoint.

Our faith, unshakable faith lived out day to day, is our strongest bulwark against the rigid control and savage excesses of a socialist or communist regime. Who do communists take out when they first take-over a country? Pastors, preachers, and Christian leaders are told they can cooperate, or they will be killed. Next, educated persons, innovators, “the intelligencia,” are eliminated. After that, those in power believe they can control the rest. Take this from a former Government and U.S. History teacher, this same set of tactics has been replayed in all totalitarian movements of the past century.

Jesus warns us to be aware. We are not just to notice weather signs. But also to examine current events and detect the social and spiritual implications that lie within and behind them.

Then what are we to do? (1) We pray for our country and our leaders, as we have been. (2) We cast our votes in elections and vote out the selfish, the greedy, and those who disrespect God, our country, and us. (3) We ask the Lord to intervene in our country, transform our leaders, and to bring our hearts—as a nation–back to Christ. And, (4) like the great cloud of witnesses, we trust in the Lord to guide us and protect us, come what may. Oh my! May it be so!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

God’s Generosity Towards Us

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 31, 2022

Scriptures: Hosea 11:1-11; Ps 107:1-9. 43; Col 3:1-11; Lk 12:13-21

The missionary, Jim Elliott, killed (in 1957 at age of 28) while attempting to witness to the Auca Indians of Ecuador, once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” What does this mean? Elliot lived this out, didn’t he? He gave up his life in service to God. We all know life is fragile. We act like we can control the number of our days, but the truth is that we could each—God forbid—be run over by a truck tomorrow. None of us knows for sure when we will die. So Jim Elliot gave up what he couldn’t keep (his life) to honor God and to gain–due to his heart-attitude—what he could not lose (his salvation/his position as an adopted son of God). This guy was sold out to God! Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). If we can believe what others tell us about Jim Elliott, he was willing to die to help spread the Gospel. By the way, his widow, Elizabeth Elliott, continued Jim’s work with the Auca’s and ended up converting his murderer (and others) to Christ. Jim Elliot lived a short life of incredible generosity toward God and others.

Let me share another illustration of generosity:

“Two young men [were] working their way through Stanford University [members of its 1st class in 1895]. Their funds got desperately low, and the idea came to one of them to engage Paderewski for a piano recital and devote the profits to their board and tuition [There was no “GoFundMe” at that time]. The great pianist’s manager asked for a guarantee of two thousand dollars. The students, undaunted, proceeded to stage the concert. They worked hard, only to find that the concert had raised only sixteen hundred dollars. After the concert, the students sought the great artist and told him of their efforts and results. They gave him the entire sixteen hundred dollars, and accompanied it with a promissory note for four hundred dollars, explaining that they would earn the amount at the earliest possible moment and send the money to him. “No,” replied Paderewski, “that won’t do.” Then tearing the note to shreds, he returned the money and said to them: “Now, take out of this sixteen hundred dollars all of your expenses, and keep for each of you 10 percent of the balance for your work, and let me have the rest.” The years rolled by–years of fortune and destiny. Paderewski had become premier of Poland. The devastating war came [WWI], and Paderewski was striving with might and main to feed the starving thousands of his beloved Poland. There was only one man in the world who could help Paderewski and his people. {After appealing to this man], thousands of tons of food began to come into Poland for distribution by the Polish premier.

After the starving people were fed, Paderewski journeyed to Paris to thank Herbert Hoover for the relief sent him. “That’s all right, Mr. Paderewski,” was Mr. Hoover’s reply. “Besides, you don’t remember it, but you helped me once when I was a student at college and I was in a hole.” (True story, prior to Hoover serving as our 31st president from 1929-1933, from the website www.sermonillustrations.com).

Later in his life, the former college student from Stanford was able to repay the Polish Premier for his earlier generosity.

Three of our lessons for today center on the heart—attitude of generosity.

A. In Hosea 11:1-11, the prophet not only speaks for God, but he also lives out a metaphor of God’s love for His people. In chapter 1, which we read last week, God tells Hosea to marry a whore, a woman who will be repeatedly unfaithful to him. What a dreadful assignment! God used Hosea’s tragic marital life to demonstrate to the Northern Kingdom how He felt about their idolatry—or what God considers “spiritual adultery.”

Hosea’s wife, Gomer, humiliated him time and again by running around with other men. By Jewish law, Hosea was justified in stoning her to death. But God told him to break the law God Himself had created in order to make his life an object lesson for the people. So, Hosea remained faithful, as does our God, to a spouse who was a serial or repeated adulterer.

Gomer bore him 3 children, but he could not be sure they were his. God had him name his 2 boys and 1 girl names that reflected the Lord’s increasing disappointment with and distress over Israel:

1.) A son, Jezreel, whose name meant God scatters;

2.) A daughter, Lo-Ruhamah, whose name meant not loved; and

3.) A second son, Lo-Ammi, whose name meant not My people. God was saying to the people of the Northern Kingdom, I have faithfully loved you, but you have been consistently and blatantly unfaithful to Me. I am withdrawing from you. I will scatter you.

Now, 10 chapters later, God changes the metaphor from a marital relationship to a parent-child relationship. He poignantly recalls (vv.3-4) It was I who taught Ephraim [Israel] to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. He freed them, loved them, healed them, led them, and fed them. And how did they respond to His continuous, long-suffering, fatherly love for them? They left Him to take up with pagan gods.

So God names the nation He will use as His method of discipline: Defeat at the hands of the brutal Assyrians. This punishment, finally meted out in 722BC, was not simply meant as just retribution for their on-going betrayals. Rather, it was meant by God to be remedial. God used their defeat by the Assyrian army as a last resort to teach lessons they had rebelliously refused to learn. Our God means what He says. When I first taught high school (1970), my principal told me to always mean what I said to students and to say only what I meant. Otherwise, she said the students would not respect me or trust me. She was right. If I said a certain consequence would follow an act of disrespect or disruption, I had to enforce that consequence even if it meant punishing my favorite student. (Often I found the kids I liked the best were the first ones to try me.) Like a teacher who is firm and in control of her classroom, God loves us but will not tolerate our disobedience and disrespect forever. He is a God of love and mercy, but He will also act to bring about reformation of our character and our morals.

B. Psalm 107 celebrates the goodness of the Lord, in that He hears our prayers and saves us. The Psalm rejoices over God’s saving interventions on behalf of the Israelites in the past. Even though they were often disobedient, He provided for them, guided them, and protected them. He was justified in destroying them, but chose not to due to His love for them.

I believe this is a prophetic message for us today too. Due to His great love for us, our God continues to provide for and to protect us. He is extraordinarily patient with us. But as with the Israelites, there comes a time when He disciplines us to reform our characters.

This is why we pray for His continued mercy. This is why we weekly (and daily) pray for our nation to return to God.

C. In our Gospel passage, Luke 12:13-21, Jesus provides us with a lesson regarding those who are selfish and self-focused. We are meant by God to act generously toward God and others. Those who don’t, like the rich guy in the parable, will not be able to hold onto their wealth and possessions forever. He blithely assumed that he would continue to be blessed as he greedily horded all of his profits to himself. He probably never considered that it could all end for him at his sudden death. Jesus calls him a fool! Let’s think back to the Jim Elliott quote: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” We cannot trust we will keep our wealth. The stock market can crash; inflation cheapens what we have; expected inheritance checks fail to arrive (the deceased may have spent it all before dying; fire, rust, rot, floods, tornadoes, volcanos, and hurricanes can reduce what we own to nothing. While there are no u-hauls carrying our wealth with us in the afterlife, we can trust that God will reward us for being generous toward Him and others.

Our God is generous even as He disciplines us. He gave Israel—and He has given us—dozens and dozens of warnings of coming punishment. In the 350 years from 750-400BC, He sent 12 Minor Prophets and 4 Major ones to warn the people not to stray from Him. There was no social media then and no cable news networks, yet those folks cannot claim they were not warned. 16 prophets in 350 years amount to approximately one every 20 years. Most of them prophesied over a number of years, so their warnings overlapped. The people were not ignorant of God’s displeasure. They simply didn’t care. So He took them to the proverbial woodshed for a thorough thrashing.

And so that we know He means what He says—so that we discover that He is indeed trustworthy and true—He will eventually lower the boom on us as well. As much as we don’t want the discipline we have coming, He punishes us because He loves us: (Hebrews 12:5) My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son [or daughter].

We are wise to trust in His generosity towards us. We are also wise to fight against any tendencies we have toward greed and selfish self-interest. We can learn to be content with what we have.

We can commit to give to others in need out of our excess; i.e., rather than stock-pile it, we can give it away to others. And we can discipline ourselves to gift God with a tithe of all He has given us. Scripture says He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). This means He owns all wealth. He gifts us with some of it. As a way to demonstrate our continued trust in His provision, and as a spiritual discipline, He wants us to give back to Him a portion…not because He needs it, but because we do.

Let’s pray:

Thank you, oh Lord, for Your incredible generosity towards us! We are exceedingly grateful. Help us to be generous toward You and toward others, we pray in the name of Jesus, our Messiah. Amen

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Watchman’s Challenge

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 17, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Relationship of the Trinity to Each Other and to Us

Pastor Sherry’s message for 6/12/2022

Scriptures: Prov 8:1-4, 22-36; Ps 8; Ro 5:1-5; Jn 16:12-16

Today is Trinity Sunday, a day the Christian Church celebrates the fact that we worship one God in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Lots of folks have tried to come up with illustrations that make this truth easier to understand:

1. An egg consists of an eggshell, egg white, and yolk, but remains one egg.

2. Water takes 3 forms—ice, liquid, and gas/steam—but all three are made up of water.

3. The shamrock, which St. Patrick used as he evangelized Ireland, has one plant stem, but three leaves.

4. Two new ones I came across this week include the following:

(1) You may have three different Bibles, an NIV, an ESV, and an NRSV, but all are God’s Word.

(2) Or let’s say Boris Johnson of England negotiated a Peace Treaty between Ukraine and Russia—wouldn’t that be wonderful!

(a.) One version would be printed in Russian;

(b.) Another version in Ukrainian;

(c.) And the third version in English, but all would say the same thing.

(Blogger BK -January 04, 2012, christiancadre@yahoo.com.)

Now the foregoing help explain the one-ness of the Trinity, but not the relationship between the three persons. Perhaps a good way to clarify or describe their relationship with each other is to look at ”…two wonderful Greek words that the early church theologians used to describe the Trinity: kenōsis and perichōrēsis. Kenosis is the act of self-giving for the good of another. It is found in the early Christian hymn in Philippians 2: 6-7 [Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. The word emptied translates the verb form of kenōsis. Jesus gave of himself for the good of others [us!] ….They used the word perichōrēsis, meaning “mutual submission,” to explain it. So the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are living in mutual submission to one another. This is the heart of the Trinity: giving oneself for the good of the other. (Taken from The Magnificent Story, James Bryan Smith, InterVarsity Press, 2018, www.ivpress.com).

Let me say that again: The relationship among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are characterized by each giving of Himself for the benefit of the other, with Son and Spirit each submitted to the will of the Father. They exhibit absolute cooperation with each other. They exist together in a dance of steadfast, unfailing, loyal love toward each other. The wonder is that they invited us into their dance, and model for us how to live with each other.

Let’s examine how our Scripture lessons for the day point to both the kenosis and the perichorisis of the Trinity.

A. Our Proverbs lesson (8:1-4, 22-36) speaks of wisdom as a person; i.e., the wisdom of God is demonstrated in the person of Jesus. Remember, Jesus called Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). Real truth is wisdom. I remember sitting in my class on Isaiah in seminary, and realizing that tears were sliding down my face as my spirit responded to the truth I was hearing read and explained.

In verse 4 the line reads, To you, O men, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus has done? He has called all men and women to Himself. He came to give of Himself for our benefit (kenosis). Everything He has said is worthy, right, true, and just. Read the red words written in read in your Bible (Gospels and Acts); these are the words of Jesus and they are all truth. If we could trust in His wisdom, we would be secure, at peace, and filled with love and hope.

Verse 22 tells us that Jesus possessed wisdom…as the first of His works, before His deeds of old. Wisdom was with Jesus as He spoke creation into existence. The very beginning of John’s Gospel (1:1-3) reports that In the beginning was the Word [Jesus; God’s word made flesh], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Though Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.

As verses 35-36 warn, however …whoever finds Me finds life and receives favor from the LORD [perichoresis]. But whoever fails to find Me harms himself; all who hate Me love death. YIKES!

B. Psalm 8 is a messianic psalm, written by King David, in praise of God’s creative power (the Holy Spirit). Portions of this psalm are quoted in the New Testament 3 times:

(1) Jesus, quotes verse 2 in Matthew 21:16 From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise. The context is that Jesus has just cleared the Temple of money lenders and those who sold animals for sacrifice. He was angry that His Father’s house had been made into a den of thieves. The Pharisees were furious, however, as they had not authorized His actions, nor had they sanctioned children running about praising Jesus. As Peterson relates it in his paraphrase, The Message, (NavPress, 2002,p.1786)

When the religious leaders saw the outrageous things He was doing, and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, ‘Hosanna to David’s Son!’ they were up in arms and took Him to task. ‘Do You hear what these children are saying?” Jesus said, ‘Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise?’ This was not a popular thing that Jesus had done; but since we know He only did what His Father told Him to do, He was submitted to the Father’s will (perichoresis).

(2) Similarly, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:27, quotes verse 6 [For He—God the Father–has] put everything under His feet. Paul goes on to interpret this as meaning that God the Father put all of creation under the authority of Jesus, His Son. All of creation– but not the Father Himself—so that Jesus might glorify the Father (perichoresis).

(3) The writer to the Hebrews also quotes verses 4b-8 (in 2:5-8) It is not to angels that He has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified: “What is man [humankind] that you are mindful of him, the Son of Man [Jesus] that you care for Him? You made Him [Jesus, when He came to earth] a little lower than the angels; you crowned Him [Jesus] with glory and honor and put everything under His feet.

The author of Hebrews, like Paul, asserts that God the Father has put all of creation under the authority of His Son. Furthermore, He has done this because of Jesus’ sacrificial death (kenosis) in submission to the will and plan of God the Father (perichoresis). Because Jesus died in submission to the Father’s will, the Father has…crowned [Him] so much higher than any angel, with a glory ’bright with Eden’s dawn light.’ (Peterson, The Message, p.2182.) In this great hymn of creation, Psalm 8, we discover that King David was prophesying the rule and reign of Jesus Christ—probably without realizing it.

C. In our Gospel lesson, John 16:12-16, Jesus further describes the work of the Holy Spirit. In verse 13, He calls Him the Spirit of Truth, who will guide you [meaning us] into all truth. [Sounds like wisdom to me.] He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. Do you notice that the Spirit is submitted to Jesus (perichoresis)? And that one of His jobs is to steer us in the right direction, both now and in the future (kenosis)?

Jesus also asserts that (v.15) All that belongs to the Father is mine. The three persons of the Trinity share power. They also give of themselves for the good of the other (kenosis and perichoresis) .

D. This comes home for us in Paul’s letter to the Romans (5:15). Among the benefits to us of Jesus’ saving work on the Cross are the following:

First, we are at peace with God (we have tranquility of soul). I remember meeting two women at my new church (pre-seminary, back in 1986) who were clearly filled with peace. I could see it on their faces; I could sense it in their spirits. I wanted that peace and asked them where it came from. Their answer was “Jesus.” I now have that peace and you can too. We just have to say “yes” to Him. Those who have not said “yes” to Jesus are not at peace with God. Instead of being sinners saved by grace, they are just plain sinners. Their sin separates them from God and makes them enemies of God. I have a pastor friend whose church asked her not to preach on sin. They wanted to come to church only to be uplifted. Well, if we are not made aware of our sinfulness, we will not be uplifted. Warning people about the consequences of their sins is actually a loving thing to do. It has been said that a Christian pastor is to comfort the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Thank God we believers are at peace with the Father.

Second, we can then rightfully, accurately, say that God is for us.

Third, we have direct access to the Father, through the Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus died on the Cross, He opened the way to the Father for us. In the final hours He hung on the Cross, the curtain that kept us out of the “holy of holies” was miraculously torn in two—from the top to the bottom so no one could claim a mere person had done it. As a result, like Adam and Eve before the Fall, we can walk with God through our prayer life.

Fourth, because we know the Trinity loves us, we have hope, or blessed assurance.

Fifth, we also experience meaning and purpose to our suffering. While being a Christ-follower does not protect us from suffering, we know that God is present with us in our suffering, and that He uses our suffering to produce in us perseverance and character.

The word “Trinity” is never found in Scripture, but the reality of it is. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit model for us how to live: Giving of oneself out of love for one another (kenosis), while being submitted to the will of God (perichoresis). When we choose to model our lives on the example of the Trinity, we experience peace, access to God, God’s favor, and blessed assurance, or hope. In these days of failed governmental policies, widespread corruption, increased inflation and economic hardship, unpredictable violence, and injustice, it is important to remember the hope we have in our Trinitarian God.

Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a missionary woman, watching passersby from the window of her second story apartment:

“…She was handed a letter from home. As she opened the letter, a crisp, new 10-dollar bill fell out. She was pleasantly surprised, but as she read the letter her eyes were distracted by the movement of a shabbily dressed stranger down below, leaning against a post in front of the building. She couldn’t get him off her mind. Thinking that he might be in greater financial stress than she, she slipped the bill into an envelope on which she quickly penned, “Don’t despair.” She then threw it out the window. The stranger below picked it up, read it, looked, up, and smiled as he tipped his hat and went on his way.

The next day she was about to leave the house when a knock came at the door. She found the same shabbily dressed man smiling as he handed her a roll of bills. When she asked what they were for, he replied: That’s the 60 bucks you won, lady. Don’t Despair paid five to one.” (Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Press, 1998, p.274).

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ—and the help of the Holy Spirit. Alleluia, alleluia!

©️2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

The Difficulty with Rejoicing

Pastor Sherry’s message for 5/15/2022

Scriptures: Acts 11:1-18; Ps 148; Rev. 21:1-8; Jn 13:31-35

In my Wednesday afternoon Bible Study this week, we focused on Jesus’ call to us to rejoice. In the Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10), the woman featured in the story is filled with joy when she locates her lost coin (1 in a set of 10). She is so excited when she finds it that she calls in her friends to celebrate the find with her. Jesus makes the point that heaven celebrates/rejoices just so when even one sinner repents.

From there, we discussed a difficulty with rejoicing with another, which is that we tend to be jealous of the cause of their joy. Isn’t it true that if friends are celebrating their 40th or 50th wedding anniversary, we are happy for them but also sad that we haven’t made it that far? Isn’t it also true that we rejoice for the woman who finds herself pregnant but are envious and grieved if we are experiencing infertility, or have had our last child–due to the financial burden–even though wishing for more? How about a lottery winner? Or someone who gets their dream job, or our dream job instead of us? Or a full ride scholarship to college? My great-niece just got such a scholarship even though her parents could well afford to pay her way. We might be happy for them at first, but often then move on to entertaining wishes that those good things happened to us instead of them. Unlike the lady in the parable, we may even hesitate to call in our friends to rejoice with us because we fear their jealousy. This may be human nature, but I believe Jesus calls us to put aside our envy—to overcome our natural tendencies–and truly celebrate with those who experience blessings.

Several of our readings today address this issue:

A. Our Acts 11:1-18 passage shows us what can happen when we don’t rejoice with the good fortune of others. Remember that we recently read how Peter baptized Cornelius and his household, all Gentiles? Prior to this, God had dramatically demonstrated to him—3 times—that nothing God creates, neither food, animals, nor non-Jews is unclean. He gets that God doesn’t play favorites, even though the Jews, as His Chosen People, believed otherwise. Peter is rightly convinced that God called him to baptize Gentiles into “the Way,” the enfant Christian Church. Now he is back in Jerusalem, however, and has to explain himself, and his actions, to the Jewish-Christian leaders back in the city. A group of new Christians, called the Judaizers, believed one must become a Jew before converting to Christianity. Remember, the movement was new. They were kind of making up the rules as time went on and occasions arose. This group wanted new believers to be circumcised, eat kosher, and go to Hebrew School prior to accepting Christ. Isn’t that just like human nature? You can almost hear people say, “Well, we had to do it that way. Why shouldn’t they?” Since we had to do that so should they. Rather than rejoice that God was calling more folks into the enfant church, they wanted to legislate a process. But God, the Holy Spirit, had a better idea.

Peter makes the very powerful and convincing point to them that the Holy Spirit (1) had told Cornelius where Peter was and to send for him; (2) then led Peter to Cornelius’ home; (3) and fell upon Cornelius and his friends, such that they were praying and speaking in tongues when Peter arrived. (4) So, since they were already baptized in the Holy Spirit, Peter did not believe he could deny them baptism with water.

Walter B. Knight, a Christian collector of illustrations for sermons and speeches, has written, Joy is the flag that flies over the castle of our hearts, announcing that the king is in residence today. (As submitted by Chuck Swindoll in his book, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.322). The proper response to anyone coming to Christ is for us to rejoice for that person. The Church in Jerusalem should have been rejoicing over the sovereign move of the Holy Spirit, instead of questioning whether Gentiles should first be Jews. Our joy for others shows that we are attuned to God rather than to our fleshly, envious natures.

B. Revelation 21:1-8 describes what eternity will look like after Christ establishes His reign on earth. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. God and His Son, Jesus, will dwell in a new Jerusalem. Those who believed in Jesus will be there, but those who distained Christ—nonbelievers and notorious sinners—will not. Scholars believe this new and Godly environment will be characterized by no sin, temptation or further testing; no sun—just God and Jesus for sources of light; no oceans; no gravity; and we will remain in the presence of God and Jesus. This will be a “Brave New World,” but one in which we will rejoice to live!

C. Our Psalm (148) is ablaze with joy, praise to God, and rejoicing!

It fairly vibrates with joy and praises to God! It begins with a call to all created things to praise God. It ends with our motivation to joyGod’s having provided “a horn.” This term is an Old Testament euphemism for the Messiah, God’s anointed. Our motivation to rejoice in God should be our gratitude for His gift of Jesus. Do we really appreciate this great gift? Does thinking of Jesus and His loving sacrifice on the cross for our sakes fill us with gratitude and joy?

D. Finally, our Gospel (John 13:31-35) contains Jesus’ “new command” (v.34): Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. It’s actually an old command, dating back to the 3rd book of the Bible (and included in the Jewish Torah or Law), 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. The Father tacks on I am the Lord so we realize Moses wrote it down, but God originated and stated the command. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New. His expectations of us are the same throughout Scripture: We’re to love Him and to love others. God is love and He expects us to Love. Notice Jesus is not calling us to serve in this verse. Neither is He calling us to witness—though both are commendable.

His highest priority is for us to demonstrate love.

Think for a moment about the connection between love and joy. When we learn we are loved, we experience great joy. I remember when I fell in love and learned he loved me in return, I wafted about in a natural high for days. Everything was beautiful and all people were wonderful. I really looked at life through rose-colored glasses. In a word, I was filled with joy! Similarly, Bruce Larson (a prolific Christian author) has said, Grimness is not a Christian virtue. There are no sad saints. If God really is the center of one’s life and being, joy is inevitable. If we have no joy, we have missed the heart of the Good News and our bodies as much as our souls will suffer the consequences. (From his book, There’s a Lot More to Health Than Not Being Sick, and submitted by Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.322).

This week, let’s celebrate God’s blessings in our lives, daily. Make it a habit to think of 3 good things that have happened to you in a given day. We may have to initially ask God to give us eyes to see. Our brains are naturally wired to help us see danger and what is wrong in a situation. We therefore have to retrain our brains to intentionally look for things for which to be thankful. Experience teaches that we can find them if we look carefully.

Then let’s rejoice! Let’s celebrate the goodness of our God.

Finally, let’s discipline ourselves to rein in our envy and jealousy. We need to recognize it for what it is. Next we need to renounce it. The behavior is human but not godly. Then, knowing that God loves you and desires to bless you too, choose to replace envy with rejoicing. Consider Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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

©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

In The Master’s Hand

Pastor Sherry’s message for 5/1/2022

scriptures: Acts 9:1-20; Ps 30; Rev. 5:11-14; Jn 21:18-30

I want to share with you a poem from 1921, written by the American poet, Myra Brooks Welch, entitled, “The Touch of the Master’s hand’:

‘Twas battered and scarred and the auctioneer

Thought it scarcely worth his while

To waste much time on the old violin,

But he held it up with a smile:

“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,

“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”

“A dollar, a dollar; then Two! Only two?

Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?

Three dollars once; three dollars, twice;

Going for three—.” but no,

From the back of the room, far back, a gray-haired man

Came forward and picked up the bow;

Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,

And tightening up the loose strings,

He played a melody pure and sweet

As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,

With a voice that was quiet and low,

Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”

And he held it up with the bow.

“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?

Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?

Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice,

And going, and gone,” said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,

“We do not quite understand.

What changed its worth.” Swift came the reply:

“The touch of a master’s hand.”

And many a man with life out of tune,

And battered and scarred with sin,

Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,

Much like the old violin.

A “mess of pottage” [soup or stew], a glass of wine;

A game—and he travels on.

He is “going once,” and “going” twice,

He’s “going” and almost “gone.”

But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd

Never can quite understand

The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought

By the touch of the Master’s hand.

Like the old violin, our value is enhanced—and our lives straightened out– when we place ourselves in the hands of our Master, Jesus Christ.

Our Scripture passages today give us several illustrations of what can happen to people who entrust themselves to Jesus’ transforming care:

Our Acts passage (9:1-20) relates the events in Paul’s conversion from being an enemy of Christ, Saul, to becoming His Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul. Since the events we addressed last Sunday, the 11 apostles have been operating out of Jerusalem: They have been active, teaching, preaching, and healing. They have added a replacement for Judas (Matthias); they also decided to add “deacons” to give the apostles time to pray, teach, and heal. The new converts have been meeting together, worshipping, breaking bread, sharing resources, studying God’s word–until Deacon Stephen was arrested and stoned to death (Chapter 8). Now Saul was present at Stephen’s martyrdom. This event culminates in an increased persecution of new followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, who then scatter out from the city, seeking safety elsewhere.

One of them, Philip, leaves to evangelize the Samaritans–and also encounters the Ethiopian Eunuch–and the faith begins to spread to North Africa. And recently (on Easter Sunday), we read about how Peter was directed by the Holy Spirit to disciple the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, in Caesarea, a faith-inroad into the Roman Empire. The Good News of Jesus Christ has begun to spread from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, and Saul/Paul is going to take it to other Gentiles–the beginning of …to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). When we first encounter Saul, he was an extremely zealous Hebrew who thought Christ’s followers were heretics. In his zeal for the One True God, he was committed to wipe out “the Way.” He had grown up reciting the Shema daily, (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. The Shema assumes a single-minded devotion to one God. Saul did not believe that God had a Son, Jesus; and in his study of Scripture, he missed the references to the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, he got the OK from the Sanhedrin to arrest any Christians he found in Damascus, in present day Syria. Damascus is 150 miles N of Jerusalem (in that day, a 4-6 day journey). Those motivated to wipe out the infant Church knew Damascus was strategic because it had formed around the crossroads of several major East-West and North-South trade routes. The enemies of Jesus realized that once Christianity flourished there, it wouldn’t be long before it led to conversions all over the empire.

But, on his way to Damascus, Saul encounters Jesus! Verses 3-4 tell us suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul has to be shocked and stunned! He’s blinded by bright light, a sign of God since only God…dwells in unapproachable light whom no one has seen or can see (1 Timothy 6:16). He hears his name called twice, a Hebrew literary device for emphasis. Saul, knowing he is in the presence of the divine, asks (v.5), Who are you Lord? Jesus answers him, I am Jesus, whom you are now persecuting (v.6). Jesus then directs him to go into the city where he will be told what comes next. He has lost his sight, so he has to be led to the home of someone called Judas who lives on Straight Street. According to verse 9, He was unable to see for 3 days; and he neither ate nor drank anything, which implies he was fasting and praying. Notice he doesn’t get angry with God, but resorts to prayer to discern God’s will. Then, through a Christian named Ananias, Jesus tells Saul that God has declared, (vv.15-16) This man [Saul/Paul] is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show Him how much he must suffer for my name. Ananias then confers on Saul the Holy Spirit for ministry; Saul’s sight is restored; and he agrees to be baptized.

The next thing we know (v.20), Saul began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. What an amazing transformation! What a radical turn-around of a single life in the hands of our Lord, Jesus Christ! In the Master’s hands, we can be directed, redirected, and empowered to do…immeasurably more that all we ask or imagine! (Ephesians 3:20).

The same phenomenon is reported in Psalm 30. King David recounts how, due to the Master’s grace and mercy, he has moved from sickness to health; mourning to gladness; silence to praise. He had been seriously sick. Perhaps he had some variant of the Covid? He pleads for his life, saying (v.9) What gain is there in my destruction [in my death], in my going down into the pit [grave]? Will the dust praise You [my dead body]? Will it proclaim Your faithfulness? David is pleading for his life, reminding God that he needs to remain alive to continue to praise Him. God apparently heals him and he celebrates God’s goodness. In the Master’s hands, despite our trials, we come to a place of rejoicing!

In our Gospel lesson, John 21:18-30, Jesus has just restored Peter 3 times to reverse or redeem his 3 denials. Then He goes on to predict how Peter will die (crucified, upside-down), and reiterates His command, Follow Me! Jesus wants Peter to entrust himself to Him. But in a way so characteristic of all of us, Peter looks around, sees John, and says, But what about him? Jesus doesn’t reveal John’s future. Essentially, He tells Peter it’s none of his business. And John, the author of the 4th Gospel, attests that all he has written of Jesus is true, though only a portion of all the things He said and did. In the Master’s hand, we are restored, sometimes rebuked, and generally always redirected.

What is revealed in our Revelation lesson (5:11-14), however, is the scope of worship in the heavenly throne room. God the Father and Jesus, the Lamb of God, are seated on the throne. And everyone rejoices and sings praises to God: Every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and on the sea worships God–even the 4 Seraphim and the 24 elders. As I preached last week, we are created to worship and to enjoy God. When we do, one payoff is that we will be included in that heavenly service. (Maybe we will even learn in heaven all the stories and healings and miracles John and the other three gospels did not include.)

We sing like that old violin at the auction when we experience the touch of the Master’s hand. Who we are as persons is enhanced because Jesus Christ brings out our very best when we place ourselves in His hands. There is no better place to be. Thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia, alleluia!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Stay in Tune

Pastor Sherry’s message for 4/24, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. When we obey God.

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Looking for Jesus

Pastor Sherry’s message for 04/10/2022

Scriptures: Isa 50:4-9a; Ps 31:9-16; Phil 2:5-11; Lk 23:1-49

Two of my favorite Bible commentators, the Rev. John Fearless (a Baptist) and the Rev. Delmer Chilton (a Lutheran), who call themselves “Two Bubbas and a Bible”), recount the following story:

“…an American was vacationing in a small [Danish] fishing village. On Sunday, he attended services in the ancient church, which dated back almost a thousand years. He went early so as to see everything. There was one thing that stood out. During the prelude, everyone who came in stopped halfway down the aisle and, turning to the right, bowed in the direction of the blank wall. Everybody, no exceptions. When the choir and the pastor came in, they too stopped and bowed to the blank wall. After the service, the visitor stood outside and talked to a few folks who knew English and eventually he asked them about the practice of bowing to the blank wall.

“And they all said, “We don’t know, we’ve always done that.” He asked the pastor. He said, “I don’t know. They were doing that when I came and I saw no reason to stop them.” The pastor did promise to find out and write the visitor.

“A few months later he received a letter from the Danish pastor. When the church was built, around the year 1150AD, there had been a mural of the Madonna and Child painted on that spot on the wall. At the time of the Reformation, when the Danish church went from Catholic to Lutheran, the mural was painted over and the people were instructed to stop bowing to the wall. But the people of the village ignored a long line of ministers telling them to stop bowing to the wall, until the clergy gave up, and eventually the people and the pastors all bowed to the wall and all forgot why.”

(Fearless & Chilton, The Lectionary Lab, Year C, 2015, pp.142-143)

I think this story provides such a good example of how our expectations and habitual ways of acting—even if incorrect—get set into stone. This is Palm Sunday, the day we commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. They welcomed Him as King and Redeemer, laying palm fronds at the feet of the donkey on which He rode and shouting “Hosanannas,”—the Hebrew version of “hurray” or “glory be!” Jewish kings traditionally rode donkeys rather than large white chargers (horses), as we would imagine. So, He entered the Holy City as Israelites would have expected of a King. Then, as they observed Him teach daily in the Temple, we see some become more and more disappointed in Him. The Jewish religious leaders find Him intelligent and extremely knowledgeable about Scripture—and able to cast out demons and heal people– but not their idea of the Messiah they expected, so they charged Him with blasphemy.

Judas, too, expected a military Messiah who would rid the Jews of pagan Roman control. Over time, he lost faith in Jesus’ meek and mild approach. He wanted the King Jesus we will see in the end times, at His second advent, coming to slay evil doers. Surely some of the crowd that gathered at His trials felt similarly. The Messiah Jesus demonstrated was not the Messiah they wanted. So they would rid themselves of Him, and continue, figuratively, their empty, vapid practice of “bowing to the blank wall.” They are still waiting for the Messiah. (Please understand I am not mocking the current practice of Jewish worshippers who pray at the “Wailing Wall” in Jerusalem. Although it is a blank wall, it is also the remains of the Temple and they gather there to pray not to the wall but to our God.)

Just prior to our Isaiah passage today (50:4-9a), in verses 1-3, God explains why He has set Israel aside: It is precisely because they rejected His Son, Jesus. Persisting in “bowing to the blank wall,” they overlooked how perfectly Jesus’ life fulfilled Isaiah’s descriptions of the Suffering Servant. Isaiah 50 contains the 3rd of 4 Servant Songs. All four, written some 700 years before Christ, describe exactly how the Messiah would behave. Biblical scholars tell us the Jews did not know what to make of these passages. Some parts seem predictive of the prophet Isaiah’s life, but most descriptions contained therein do not fit him. They do fit Jesus.

In today’s passage, Jesus is speaking (thru the prophet). In verses 4-5 He says the Father has given Him an “instructed tongue.” He steeped Himself in Scripture study, during His years as a carpenter, before beginning His public ministry, so He knew God’s Word. Then God guided His actions thru prayer The Sovereign Lord has opened My ears. Jesus conversed often with His Father; He listened to and obeyed God’s directions.

Jesus asserts I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back.

The Gospel writers–Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—all record His treatment at the hands of His enemies (v.6) I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting. He could have resisted them (John 19:11), or disappeared as He had in Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30); but He knew He had to die on the cross to save us from the penalty God’s justice demanded for our sins.

Isaiah further records that because Jesus trusted in God, His Father, He was able to suffer through what they did to Him (v.7b-9) Therefore have I set My face like flint [He was determined], and I know I will not be put to shame. He Who vindicates Me is near…It is the Sovereign Lord who helps Me. They may not have seen Him as their Messiah, but He is God’s Messiah and He is our Messiah.

Psalm 31 was written by King David as a prayer for deliverance from his enemies. The portion we read responsively today (vv.9-16) seems to speak prophetically for both David and, later, Jesus. In verses 9-10, they both are asking for God’s mercy because they are exhausted physically and emotionally. In verses 11-12, David and Jesus both express grief at being abandoned by their friends in their time of need (remember Peter, James and John fell asleep in the Garden and only John stood as a witness at the foot of Jesus’ cross).

Despite their grim circumstances and their despair, however, both Jesus and David exclaim (vv.14-15) I trust in You O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hands….Actually the number of our days are all in God’s hands. No wonder God considered David, “a man after My [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). No wonder God honored Jesus’ great faith and obedience.

Paul describes Jesus’ great faith and obedience in Philippians 2:5-11. Scholars believe this was originally a hymn sung by the early Christian Church that Paul is quoting to make his point. He wants us to have the same attitude as Jesus: Be humble; Be guided by agapeo love, that longsuffering, loyal, merciful, grace-filled love that God has for all of us. Further, he wants us to be cognizant of Jesus’ great sacrifice of Himself for us: He left His heavenly prerogatives behind—but not His divinity–when He left heaven for His incarnation. The King of the Universe became a servant so as to…(1) walk among us; (2) experience life as we do; and (3) to die—though sinless–as a criminal to redeem us.

God the Father then exalted Him such that at His name, every knee in the universe will [someday] bow and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. This means all evil doers. This means all atheists and nonbelievers.

This means everyone who worships other gods. All of them, and all of us, will agree that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

Our Gospel passage is the Passion of Christ according to Luke (23:1-49). It’s a long passage in which Dr. Luke leads us from Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin to His death on the Cross and burial in the tomb.

Remember, Luke’s motive was to write an orderly account of Jesus’ ministry by interviewing Jesus’ contemporaries, followers, and relatives. He compiled and recorded eye-witness testimony from those who were there. So we learn some in the Sanhedrin paid for slanderers to bring false accusations against Him. They claimed He …subverted our nation, though He never incited violence. They lied and claimed He…opposes paying taxes to Caesar, when He had in fact produced a fish with a coin in its mouth to (Matthew 22:21), Render to Caesar what is Caeser’s; i.e., to pay the tax. They charged Him with falsely claiming to be the Messiah when He was and is the Messiah.

Pilate tried to get the mob to back off, but they pressured him to crucify Him—just a few days following His triumphal entry into the city.

Jesus hung on the Cross from 9am until 3:00pm. Darkness covered the land from noon until 3. He called out to God, surrendering His spirit to the Father.

We also learned that a Pharisee named Joseph of Arimathea (a town 20 mi. NW of Jerusalem) laid His body in a new tomb, just before the Sabbath began. Jesus was the passover Lamb, slain to save us from death.

As John the Baptist proclaimed (John 1:29) Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Are we like the folks in Jerusalem, looking for our idea of Jesus? In looking for the Jesus we have placed in a box bordered by our own expectations, are we overlooking the One who is real and true? This Holy Week, we want to look for Him as He reveals Himself… in the Scriptures; in prayer; in our worship together (Good Friday service at noon; Easter Sunday); and in our lives.

We want to cast off all of our mistaken ideas of Who we imagined He is (stop bowing to the blank wall) and come to terms with the reality of Who He is:

(1) Suffered, crucified for our sakes;

(2) Risen, glorified, opening the way to heaven for us;

(3) Later resurrected as King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

We want to say, like Jesus and like King David, in Psalm 31:16) Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. Amen! May it be so!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams