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

Birds on a Buffalo

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 5, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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

Easter Punctuation

Pastor Sherry’s message for 4/17/22,

Scriptures: Acts 10:34-43; Ps 188:1-2, 14-24; 1Cor 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12

Remember the days of punctuation marks? Now we tend to use emojis. But try to recall the time when a comma, a period, a question mark, and an exclamation point were commonly used and meant something. Now ask yourself, “Easter morning: Would I describe my response to this day with a period, a comma, an ! or a ?” If it’s just another day, having no real meaning for you, then a period will do. But maybe a comma better describes it…it gives you a pause as you think about it, but then you rapidly move on to the next thought or activity, and the next, etc. Non-believers, if they consider it at all, would probably use a ? Huh?

This week I saw one of those episodes on the news where they ask folks on the street what they think of certain issues. This time, the interviewer asked people in a New York City park what Easter was. Sadly, most didn’t know. A few said it’s about the bunny, finding eggs, and eating chocolate. Only one woman said that Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We truly are living in a post-Christian America. But for those of us who love Jesus, Easter deserves a series of exclamation points. Fireworks emojis might also capture it. You may even throw in some smiley faces with hearts and praying hands.

But to the eyewitness disciples that original Easter, their morning was punctuated first by a period. They thought Jesus was dead, gone, buried, period. End of story. Their expectations of Him as their Messiah were disappointed. They were overwhelmed with dejection, grief and sorrow. Then the women arrive and tell what seems an unbelievable or even a crazy tale. His tomb is empty? A question mark at this point is more distressing than a period. A ? introduces doubt; it’s perplexing. Where could His body be? Who might have taken it? And why?

But thank God for angels, supernatural messengers (that requires an exclamation point)! Two angels are present to say (Luke 24:5-6) Why [?] do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ [?] The angels ask them a question, but they also expect them to remember what Jesus had said to them, repeatedly. OK, now they remember—thanks for reminding us! Even so, Peter and John (John 20:8) race to the tomb to see for themselves. Later that evening, the resurrected Jesus appears to the others. As is common with many folks, the disciples only believe when they can see for themselves. (Joe LoMusio, as quoted by Chuck Swindoll in The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, pp.171-172}.

By the end of Easter Day, the periods are gone. The question marks have been satisfactorily resolved. As our readings today attest, there remain, instead, several massive exclamation points! Alleluia, He is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

St. Luke, in Acts 10:34-43, wants us to know that one reason for an exclamation point was that Jesus’ death on the Cross—followed by His resurrection–had opened the way for Gentiles, like ourselves, to gain entrance into God’s Kingdom. As we have often noted, ethnic divisions were deeply ingrained in the Jews and others in 1st century Israel. For them, there were only two categories: Jews (the chosen people) and Gentiles (everyone else). Knowing this, Peter is surprised to be summoned to the home of the Roman centurion, Cornelius (who commanded and led over 600 soldiers). His household already knew about and believed in Jesus. Peter enters his home and announces: (v.34) I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men [and women] from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.

His sermon from verses 36-43 is truly a great summary of the entire Gospel. In short, he says Jesus lived and walked among us, preaching, teaching, healing, and doing miracles; He died on the Cross for our sins;

Then He rose again, demonstrating His power over sin and death. Following Peter’s sermon, the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his “congregation.” Peter considered this to be the Gentile Pentecost, and proceeded to baptize these Roman believers into the enfant Christian Church.

Scholars tell us that Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, was a Hillel psalm. This meant it was one of several psalms sung from memory at the Passover meal. Jesus would have sung it with the apostles after they drank the final cup of wine at their Seder supper. The psalm celebrates the victory of a reigning king who had once been looked down upon by rival nations.

Several verses are particularly meaningful when viewed in the light of the resurrection: Verse 18 reads (and prophetically, Jesus would be the speaker) I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord…He has not given Me over to death. Jesus was laid dead into a tomb; but He did not remain there as we would. Instead, He rose again, overcoming death! And, in verses 22-23 He says the stone [the Rock: Jesus] the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Jewish religious leaders rejected Jesus as the Messiah; they rejected the cornerstone. Later, Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:4 As you come to Him [Jesus], The Living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…. So a 2nd exclamation point is that Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled Old Testament prophecies (from the Psalms).

Third, St. Paul exhorts us to believe (in 1 Corinthians 15:19-26) that Jesus’ resurrection is the defining moment of Christianity.

First, (vv.5-8) he catalogues who all saw Jesus following His resurrection:

1. Peter,

2. The 12 minus Judas;

3. More than 500 disciples;

4. His brother, James;

5. And Paul himself.

Scholars tell us there is more eye-witness evidence that Jesus lived after His resurrection than there is for the existence of Julius Caesar (and many other important historical persons). There are many ancient manuscripts (all in museums now) that cite Christ’s resurrection. Josh and Sean McDowell, who wrote More than a Carpenter, researched proof of the resurrection and spent more than 700 hours discovering how well validated it is.

Next, in verses 13-19, Paul asserts that our entire faith depends upon the truth of the resurrection: Verse 14 If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. In other words, Christ’s resurrection from the dead is incontrovertibly true and forms the basis of our belief in Him. We worship a God who has the power to bring His Son back from the dead. I want a strong, powerful God like that, don’t you? We worship a God who loves us so much that He sacrificed His one and only Son to redeem us. We worship Jesus, the One and Only, the God Who—due to His self-sacrificing love for us and His obedience to His Father–was willing to suffer to cover the cost of our sins. The sinless Son of God gave up His life so we might have new life, and have it abundantly. We can connect directly with the Father because Jesus opened the way for us (As He hung on the cross, the Temple curtain—a huge thick drape of goat’s hair—was torn in two). We can anticipate being resurrected because Jesus opened the way for us. And, when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, He will destroy death…Praise God!

I’ve already commented extensively on our Gospel lesson today. Let me just add how ironic it is that the first to disbelieve Jesus’ resurrection were the apostles themselves. They didn’t believe the reports of the women who saw the open and empty tomb. Even after Peter viewed the physical evidence, he had to go off by himself to puzzle out what it meant. However, let’s offer them some grace—though difficult to believe, Jesus’ resurrection is nevertheless true, and they eventually got it!

As we wish one another Happy Resurrection Day, let us punctuate the day with exclamation marks as we remember the lyrics to an old Welsh Easter hymn:

We welcome glad Easter when Jesus arose

And won a great victory over His foes.

Then raise your glad voices, all Christians in song.

Bring glad Easter tidings to Jesus your King.

We tell how the women came early that day

And there at the tomb found the stone rolled away.

We sing of the angel who said: ‘Do not fear!

Your Savior is risen and He is not here.

We think of the promise which Jesus did give:

That he who believes in Me shall also live.’

Someone named S. Lewis Johnson has said (I don’t know who he is but I want to give him credit), “The Resurrection is God’s Amen! to Christ’s statement, “It is finished.” Alleluia, He is risen! The Lord is risen Indeed! Thanks be to God!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Good Friday Message

Pastor Sherry’s message for April 15, 2022.

Scriptures: Isa 52:13-53:12; Ps 22; Heb 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

Our Scripture passages today are all very solemn, fitting this day we remember the death of our Lord, Jesus Christ, on the Cross. The Passion narrative according to John takes us through Jesus’s “kangaroo trials” to His crucifixion.

First, He is arrested. He had made Himself disappear suddenly, in the past, when He did not intend to be captured. In Nazareth, after He had read the passage from Isaiah (61:1-2) that contains the job description of the Messiah and said Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, His hometown friends tried to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:29-30). However, He walked through the midst of them and vanished. This time, though, He chose to remain and to face what was coming.

Did you notice that those who came to arrest Him fell back when He identified Himself as Jesus of Nazareth (v.6)? He seemed firmly in control as He calmly surrendered. They had sent a group of some 500 men to capture Him, armed with clubs and weapons, but He wouldn’t allow a fight to ensue. He tells them to let His disciples go. Luke tells us He even healed Malchus’ ear after Peter had cut it off (Luke 22:50-51). This should have made some impression on those who came to arrest Him. Surely they might have wondered if He were not someone special.

From the garden, they take him to the palace of Annas, the former high priest. Out of favor with the Romans, Annas was still the religious power broker of Jerusalem. Biblical scholars say he was both brilliant and satanic. Many credit him with this plan to eliminate Jesus; they had just awaited the “right time” and a Judas to appear. So they arrest Him under the cover of night, when all those who loved and believed in Jesus would be at home.

Jesus challenges Anna’s court honestly, confronting the guy who hit Him (v.23) If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike Me? Jesus, again calmly but firmly, reminds them they are out of line: by Jewish law,

1.) No court trial could begin at night/be held at night;

2.) No one could strike a person on trial without a verdict;

3.) Furthermore, Jewish Law prohibited sentencing a man on the day he was brought to trial.

But this trial at Annas’s was a mockery of justice.

Annas then sends Him to Caiaphas, the Roman’s choice for “high priest,” as well as Annas’s son-in-law (a 1st century example of nepotism). John reminds us that earlier (John 11:50), Caiaphas had said to the Sanhedrin You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish. Caiaphas did not realize at the time that he was speaking prophetically. Nevertheless, Jesus knows He is laying down His life for the sins of Israel and for us. Caiaphas and Annas both find Jesus guilty of blasphemy, because He admitted He is the Son of God. He–the Way, the Truth, and the Life– is accused of lying even though He told the truth. How ironic! They would have liked to have stoned Jesus, but the Romans forbade any nation to invoke capital punishment but them.

So Jesus is next sent to the Roman, Pontius Pilate. Pilate tries every which way to free Jesus. He knows the Jewish religious hierarchy is just jealous of Him. Even though Pilate believes Jesus is innocent, he still has Him scourged (39 lashes with a whip), hoping this will satisfy them. He offers to set Jesus free due to the Passover Holiday. He can find nothing wrong with Jesus, but hands Him over to be crucified when the Jews threaten to tell Caesar that Pilate has released a man claiming to be king of the Jews.

And so, trading the sinless Son of God for a murderous insurrectionist, the Jewish leadership have their way and Jesus is crucified. Ironically, the sign on His cross identifies Him as King of the Jews: It is written…

1.) In Hebrew—the language of religion;

2.) ,In Greek—the language of culture and education;

3.) And in Latin—the language of law and order in the Roman world.

The Jews want it adjusted, but Pilate will not bend.

Notice that John does not tell us much about the crucifixion. None of the Gospel writers do. They highlight Jesus’ dignity. They did not want us to focus on Christ’s agony. In fact, the Bible commentator J. Vernon McGee says the Father deliberately made darkness come over the land from noon until 3:00pm so watchers could not see Jesus’ intense suffering as He took on all the sin of the world, past, present, and future; and as the Father turned His back on Him. We are told that soldiers gamble over who will get His clothes. John then relates three of the 7 statements Jesus makes as He is dying:

1.) He asks John to care for His mother, Mary;

2.) He says He is thirsty;

3.) And, lastly, He asserts, It is finished [meaning the work of salvation He was sent to do]. Finally, we learn He was taken down and buried just before the Sabbath began at sundown.

To get a sense of what the crucifixion was like for Jesus, we have to turn to Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the 4th and final Suffering Servant Song, a Messianic Prophecy, often referred to as the Gospel in the Old Testament. Isaiah tells us Jesus will be raised high, lifted up (on the Cross) but also highly exalted (when it is all over). No one would think so as they observed Him carrying His Cross. He will in fact startle or surprise the whole world—even render them speechless—because it will be through the loss of all things that He gains all things.

Seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah accurately predicts the kind of death Jesus will endure. An ordinary man to begin with—not a Rock Star–He will be (v.3) despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering…; beaten beyond recognition; pieced, crushed, oppressed, afflicted; killed in the worst possible way–like a common criminal–hung between true felons; he will die childless—“cut off,” to the Hebrews, evidence of a tragic, futile existence. People will think He got what He deserved, but He didn’t…verses 4-5 Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows….the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. In verse 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.

The Father will richly reward Him (verse 11) After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life [resurrection], and be satisfied…Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong.

God intends to reward Him as though He were a king sharing in the spoils of a great victory, because He went willingly to death, and because He interceded for our sins.

Psalm 22 reveals to us Christ’s thoughts on the cross: He feels forsaken by His Father: The Father was with Him when He was arrested. The Father was with Him during His ludicrous trials. The Father was with Him when He was beaten. The Father was with Him when He was nailed to the Cross. But the Father turned His back on Him when He became sin for us, from noon until 3:00pm.

He admits to feeling like a worm. The word for worm in the Hebrew is the Coccus worm, which emitted a substance used to make red dye. This is symbolic of Jesus’ blood poured out for us. From the Cross He feels surrounded by His enemies: The soldiers are many bulls…the strong bulls of Bashon. His tormentors from the foot of the Cross—scribes, Pharisees, the hostile mob—resemble (v.13) roaring lions tearing their prey; and verse 16 dogs have surrounded Me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. Nevertheless, He trusts in the love of His Father.

Biblical Scholars tell us Jesus fulfilled 28 prophecies of the Messiah from the Cross. We can recognize them in our Psalm and Isaiah passages. The sinless Son of God laid down His life for us, paying the penalty for our sins; reconciling us to God the Father; and clothing us in His righteousness. These Sacred writings prove to us that Jesus—and only Jesus—was and is the Messiah, the Son of God. Let us ponder His sacrifice and offer Him our gratitude and love.

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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

Celebration and Sadness

Pastor Sherry’s message for April 3, 2022,

Scriptures: Isa 43:16-21; Ps 126; Phil 3:4b-14; Jn 12:1-11

This week, I attended two clergy meetings. The first took place Tuesday evening. George and I were present at Good Samaritan Church, Tallahassee, to learn the Conference’s response to the potential split over the issue of marrying and ordaining LGBTQ persons. George will tell you more about it in days to come; but, because of the latest variation of Covid, and the problems Methodists worldwide were having getting Visas into the US, it was decided to move the General Assembly meeting to vote on this issue to 2024. The second meeting was an Anglican one held at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Tallahassee, Thursday and Friday (As you know, I was ordained an Anglican but—with the consent of both bishops–I serve y’all here at Wellborn United Methodist Church). At the second meeting, we clergy renewed our ordination vows. Then we sat through a 2 day teaching on how to recognize signs one is headed toward clergy burn-out; and what to do to prevent what they are now calling “moral failure”—when a clergy person “crashes and burns” or falls apart in their ministry.

In his sermon during a worship service, my Anglican Bishop, Neil Lebhar, told of his recent encounter with a Ukrainian woman named Nina. He had been asked to stop in Poland, as he returned home from a trip to Jerusalem, to ordain Nina to the deaconate. As most of you know, to be ordained in both the Methodist and the Anglican denominations, it is necessary that a Bishop lays hands on you (usually your head) and imparts the Holy Spirit to you for empowerment for ministry. Nina is attached to Christ Church, an Anglican church in the Old City of Jerusalem. However, she had been home to teach in a Bible College in Kyiv, and got trapped by the war. By the grace of God, and a few miracles, she was able to leave Ukraine on the 5th day of the war. She had waited with hundreds in the cold for a train. The first one filled up before she could get on, so she waited in the cold another 3 hours for a 2nd one. Meanwhile all those waiting were told not to eat or drink anything because the train would lack sanitary facilities. Finally, she boarded the 2nd train for Poland. The usual 3 hour trip took 12, again with no food or water.

Nevertheless, Nina made it to Poland and Bp. Neil was able to ordain her. He said he was struck during the service by the contrasts presented between celebration and sadness. Nina, and her few witnesses, were filled with joy over her ordination. She had safely made it out of a war zone. She connected with Bp. Neil in Poland for the ceremony. A Polish Baptist pastor, Kristoff, offered to host the service at his church. And her boss and another female deacon from Jerusalem were also able to witness the event. But she was also grieved that none of her family could attend; none of her home church family from Ukraine could be there either. Like so many refugees from the war, she had left her country with just what she could carry in one suitcase. The few people at the service were delighted for Nina, but most were also very aware the odd juxtaposition of joy in the midst of devastation.

As God would have it, our Scriptures today also reflect this contrast between celebration and sadness:

Our Isaiah 43:16-21 passage briefly recounts the Red Sea crossing of the children of Israel. With the ocean before them and the Egyptian army at their backs, the former slaves appeared to be trapped! Even though Pharaoh had agreed to let them go, he later changed his mind when he considered he was losing a free labor force of 2 million persons. However, God miraculously saved them, while the Egyptian chariots and army met their watery grave (celebration and sadness).

Later, in the wilderness, God miraculously provided them with water (vv.21-22) The wild animals honor Me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to My people, my chosen, the people I formed for Myself that they may proclaim My praise. The wilderness is a bleak place; living things can and do die there (often one can find skeleton bones of those who didn’t make it). But God was doing a new thing (v.19) He provided enough water for 2 million people to slake their thirst. And He intended to send Jesus into the world at a much later date to redeem us from sin. Imagine their relief at escaping the Egyptian army and their delight over God’s provision of water—fear and sadness, then celebration.

Psalm 126 celebrates the end of the Babylonian captivity. The folks from Judah, the Southern Kingdom, had been carried off to Babylon due to their idolatry. Despite numerous warnings from God through the prophets, they had been spiritually unfaithful to Him. So he allowed the Babylonian King Nebuchanezzar to carry them off to Babylon in 578BC. But this psalm celebrates their freedom. After 70 years as prisoners in that country, they are set free to return to the Promised Land. In verse 3, the people rejoice The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. The background, however, is one of sadness: of the thousands of Israelites deported, only 4,000 decided to return home. We can only assume the others had settled into life in Babylon—by then a part of the Persian Empire—and decided not to return to their homeland. The returnees celebrate their release, but they also experience sadness at leaving some friends behind, as well as revisiting their devastating ordeal when they arrive to find Jerusalem and the Temple in ruins.

This theme of celebration and sadness is even present in chapter 3:4b-14 of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul first lists all the ways he was both qualified and competent to be a high-place-enemy of Christianity. He had a near perfect Jewish pedigree. He had become a respected and influential Pharisee. And, he was trusted by the Sanhedrin to pursue and arrest new Christians, followers of what they first called “the Way.”

But after his dramatic encounter with Christ, he realized all those things that he had previously viewed as important—when compared to following Jesus—were of no worth at all. When Paul came to Christ, those credentials and credits were lost to him. We could say he was somewhat like Nina, who had to leave everything behind to dedicate her life to knowing Jesus (vv.7-8) But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

The Bishop knew this is what Nina felt. Despite any sadness related to the loss of her family or her country, she rejoiced in being anointed into God’s service. The same is true for you and for me, isn’t it? Maybe we gave up carousing and cussing, doing whatever we wanted, living out our dream for our lives until we realized that that did not work well for us. Living a Godless life, or a life in rebellion against God, was really a life of grief and sadness. True peace and joy come from loving God and trusting that He loves and forgives us. True peace and joy come from turning our lives over to Jesus Christ. For many of us, our conversion experience constituted a voyage from sadness to celebration.

The Gospel lesson, John 12:1-11 paints this contrast most vividly. Shortly after resurrecting Lazarus, Jesus circles back around to visit at his home. Lazarus calls for a celebratory meal in Jesus’ honor. Martha offers her gift of hospitality as she cooks and serves a meal. Mary worships Jesus by anointing His feet with costly perfumed oil. Some scholars believe she may have purchased it earlier for her own burial; but six days before the Cross, the Holy Spirit moved her to anoint Jesus with it instead. It was probably worth approximately $30,000-$40,000 in today’s economy. It was certainly an indication of her respect and love for Jesus that she would lavish Him with such an extravagant gift.

When Judas criticizes her gesture as a waste of money, Jesus chastises him. Mary may not have known that Jesus was walking toward His death only days later, but Jesus knew she was anointing Him for the grave.

Then, a great crowd shows up—most like out of curiosity—but perhaps also to celebrate both Lazarus and Jesus. However the religious leaders of the day planned to kill them both. Celebration and sadness:

1.) Jesus opened His public ministry with a wedding (joy), and closed it (sadness) with a family dinner.

2.) We see in this intimate portrait a picture of the soon-to-be-Church:

Lazarus has new life in Christ; Mary worships and adores Him; while Martha serves Him.

3.) But we also see a symbol of His coming passion and death. Jesus’ return to the vicinity of Jerusalem has, in a sense, signed His execution order, and Mary has unwittingly anointed Him for burial.

4.) Nevertheless, we have joy in knowing Jesus’ coming death provided a “sacred exchange” for us: Our sins for His holiness; Our death for His eternal life; and Our fate exchanged for His spiritual fortune.

We certainly resonate with Nina’s celebration and her sadness, don’t we? But we also realize the Christian walk is a mix of both. Jesus never promised us a rose garden, but instead said, (Mark 8:34) Pick up your cross and follow Me. When we turn our lives over to Jesus, the evil one comes after us—as though we now have a giant bulls-eye painted on our chest. There can come to us numerous times of trial, testing, pain, and sadness. He doesn’t prevent these dark times in our lives, but He does both use them to mold and shape our characters, and He remains present to us as we journey through them. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams