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

Grown-ups or Parents?

Pastor Sherry’s message for 3/27/2022,

Scriptures: Jos 5:9-12 ; Ps 32; 2 Cor 5:16-2; Lk 15:1-32

A 5 year old girl asks her mother, “Is God a grown-up or a parent?”

The mother wants to be sure she understands where the child is coming from, so she asks, “What’s the difference between a grown-up and a parent?” The child says, “Grown-ups love you when you are good, but parents love you anyway.” So, based on the child’s understanding, God is… a parent.

In our Gospel this morning, the Scribes and the Pharisees are grown-ups, aren’t they? They are the guardians of the do’s and the don’ts. They are the arbiters of good and bad behaviors. So, they separate themselves out from tax collectors, who they see as sell-outs to their Roman oppressors. The Romans had these folks gather taxes for Rome, and then slowed them to add whatever they wanted for themselves. The Jews knew Rome had thus unleashed foxes into the proverbial hen house, and resented it mightily. They also viewed tax collectors as collaborators with pagans. Pharisees and Scribes also avoided contact with sinners, fearing contamination. Now it is human nature, isn’t it, for us to try to figure out who’s in and who’s out; who’s “hot” and who’s not; or who’s “cool” and who’s a fool. So we can cut them some grace for just being people. But isn’t it true that we in the Church, if we are not careful, can also become grown-ups? Like the Scribes and Pharisees, we too often judge others and decide they come up short. These fellows are judging Jesus and are seriously questioning His “Good Person credentials.” (They are judging God. YIKES!)

Now I am going to depart from my usual practice of trying to explain what God is wooing or challenging us to do in each passage assigned for today. Instead, I want to focus on what Jesus, knowing their “grown-up hearts” is telling the Scribes and Pharisees-–and us–in 3 parables Luke groups together as stories regarding “the lost.”

It is no accident that the “God-figures”—the people who act like God– in these first two are low status folks: In the 1st parable, the religious elite would distain shepherds because they lived a nomadic, outdoor life (didn’t attend Synagogue regularly). And, often lacking water, or having to bandage up injured, bloody sheep, they were unable to keep the purity laws. In the 2nd, no self-respecting rabbi or Pharisee would either see or speak to a woman. That’s why Jesus talking with the woman of the well (John 4:1-42) was so radical. The disciples were speechless when they found Him alone with her; not only that, but the two were discussing serious theological issues. Women of that day were not allowed to go to rabbinical school, or to study Torah. Ben Sirach, a noted teacher of the time, wrote the birth of a daughter is a loss. Jewish men of Jesus’ time often thanked God each day that they had not been born a woman. This is also why Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50), was so put out that Jesus would allow a woman to touch Him (she washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair). Women in that day did not touch rabbis, and women of low reputation certainly did not dare.

The son in the 3rd parable had high status until he severely disrespected his father. He asked for his inheritance. Then as now, sons only inherited at the death of their father. Asking so early was tantamount to saying, “Father, I wish you were dead!” Fathers in the Ancient Near East had life/death control over their children. The younger son is the lowest status member of this family; thus, his request would have been viewed as especially despicable and selfish. Friends, neighbors, and relatives–had they known–would have expected the father to drive this greedy son away with yelling and with blows. They would have further expected the father to banish him from the family forever.

Given this cultural understanding, let’s look 1st at the Parable of the Lost Sheep. We are well familiar with this wonderful story, aren’t we? The shepherd, the Good Shepherd, values His one lost sheep enough to spare no effort to locate it. Did you ever wonder who was looking out for the 99? Maybe Jesus just said to them, “stay,” and they did. Or probably some assistant shepherd remained behind to watch over them. We don’t know what He goes through to locate the lost sheep, but only that He rejoices when He finds it. The fabulous point is that God loves us all enough to go to great lengths to find us, and rejoices when He does. Consider John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Through Jesus, God saved all. Not all appreciate this, so not all will claim their salvation by saying “yes” to Christ. Paul writes in 1 Tim 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…. John insists similarly in 1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as He [Jesus] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.

The truth is that our chief, most important identity is not our gender, race, nationality, credentials, or our status. It is that we are loved by God. If we have accepted Jesus, we are each children of God the Father and inheritors of His Kingdom through Christ Jesus. We are sinners redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ. Like St. Paul, we realize that before we ever did anything to merit God’s attention, regard, or affection, He loved us and desired intimate relationship with each of us. Our God is a loving parent, rather than a disapproving grown-up. So Jesus is saying to the Scribes and the Pharisees in this 1st parable, you should be like this Shepherd.

In the Parable of the Lost Coin, we find a female image to balance the (predominantly male) shepherd image, which is something St. Luke often tries to do (because Jesus did it). This good wife is perhaps searching for part of her dowry. The coin may have been set in a ring or an earring, or it may have belonged to a strand of coins worn across the forehead. The coin probably had high sentimental value to her. It may have been to her like losing the stone out of an engagement ring would feel to one of us. Or, alternatively, it might have been money given to her by her husband to buy necessities for their home. Those 10 coins probably represented 10 days’ income. She may have worried that losing it would demonstrate to her husband that she could not be trusted to be a good steward of their money. Whether dowry or income, she felt she needed to locate that missing coin.

Notice the lengths she goes to in order to locate the coin: She lights a lamp to see better. She sweeps what would have been a hard-packed dirt floor thoroughly. Like the Shepherd, she searches diligently. Consider, the sheep may have been found wounded or damaged somehow, but lost or found, the value of the coin is unaffected. Some of us may have believed we were without value before Christ came into our lives. That was me before God rescued me. My step-father never told me he loved me and my mother did not like women. YIKES! But when I learned my Heavenly Father loved me, I realized it almost didn’t matter that my earthly grown-ups (parental figures) did not. Or perhaps you feared that you had done so many bad things in your life so as to lessen your value to God. I have heard folks say they won’t come to church because they are such sinners that the roof of the building would fall in if they showed up. But this lost coin parable affirms that despite having been sinners in the past, Jesus Christ still values us. The roof would not cave in! As with the sheep, the search is on, the lost is found, and the woman rejoices.

This time, Jesus identifies with the woman. He is saying, I am like this woman. I diligently search for the lost. What about you, Scribes and Pharisees? And, as one of my seminary professors (Dr. Kenneth Bailey) said, in this parable and elsewhere in Luke, Jesus elevates the worth of women.

Now we come to the famous Parable of the Lost, or Prodigal Son. Let’s focus first on the Father’s Behaviors: Very unexpectedly (for the Ancient Near East), he offers grace to His greedy younger son. He doesn’t seem to take offense. Despite any pain over his son’s attitudes, he grants the request. He gives his son the freedom to leave town with his “inheritance check.” It’s helpful to know that this would diminish what the father and the elder son have left to live on. It’s also helpful to know that once word of this got around the village, the villagers would have wanted the son’s head (vigilante justice)! Remember the outcry against Queen Vasti, in the book of Esther? She refused to come when the King summoned her to his banquet. Even though the banqueters were all men, and even though they were probably all drunk and unpredictable after days of feasting and drinking, Vasti’s refusal shamed the king before his subjects. The other nobles pressured the King to “de-queen” her because they feared her “disrespect” would be a bad example to other married women in the empire. If they had known, the villagers may have feared a similar contagion effect. Already we notice this Father is more magnanimous than anyone then would have expected a Father to be. Jesus’ listeners would no doubt have been shocked.

Now let’s consider the Son’s Behaviors: He runs through his father’s money. He’s reduced to starvation. In desperation, he develops a plan return home and throw himself on his dad’s mercy.

Let’s shift back again to the Father’s Response: He watches for his son! He knows his son and probably suspects he’ll have spent it all. He wants to see him again, but also to reach the young man before the villagers get ahold of him. He runs to meet him! This would have totally shocked the Pharisees. Ancient Near Eastern patriarchs did not run! They moved at a slow and stately pace as befit their status. In addition, any exposure of the Father’s legs while running would have been considered shameful. The father deliberately risks ridicule and humiliation to reach his son.

When he reaches his lost son, he embraces and kisses him. Village observers would have expected the son to fall on his face and kiss his father’s feet.

But sonny-boy barely starts his apology when the father offers, “a costly demonstration of his unexpected love” (Do you hear a whisper, an intimation of the Cross?) Through His saving, redeeming love, the Father receives his lost son (us) back into the family. He honors him with the best robe, signifying cleansing and honor; he provides him a signet ring, indicating trust; he sees to covering his bare feet with shoes, a symbol of self-respect. Then he throws a celebratory party! The Father is delighted that his son has returned home. But, as Dr. Bailey taught, “The banquet is a celebration of joy in honor of the Father and his life-saving, costly love. (See Finding the Lost, by Kenneth E. Bailey, Condordia Press, 1992).

What then is Jesus saying, through these three parables of lost things, to His audience of Pharisees and to us? He is saying, (1.) “I hang out with sinners because I came to seek and to save the lost.” (2.) He says to the Scribes and the Pharisees, “So should you.” (3.) To us, “Even though we may believe God has given up on us He hasn’t. He simply waits for us to come to our senses, and realize we need Him.”

He is also telling us that our God is a loving and forgiving parent. His love for us is extravagant, generous, without compare. And He stands ready to forgive us and draw us to Himself if we but ask. May we always appreciate His life-saving, parental love!

©2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

Repent or Perish!

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 20, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 55:1-9; Ps 63:1-8; 1 Cor 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Normally, I like to begin my sermons with a story, or a real life application of our Scripture passages. But on this 3rd Sunday of Lent, I want to review: Remember, our focus has been on using the 40 days of Lent as a time for “spiritual house-cleaning”–a time to consider and confess our sins; a time to renew and strengthen our relationship with God. Two weeks ago, I preached about several ways the Bible suggests we can respond to temptation. Last week, I concentrated on how (and why) we want to pursue full-on access to God.

This week our Scriptures center on two additional but related themes: 1. How we attempt to meet our spiritual hungers; and 2, repenting or perishing.

A. Our Isaiah 55:1-9 passage reiterates the truth that we, ourselves, decide whether or not we will come to God. No one can do this for us. The prophet presents God’s offer of salvation as if He were extending to us free food to eat and no cost water, wine, and milk to drink. The food and drink he refers to are not the physical, material substances themselves, but are metaphors for the spiritual nourishment God has for us. St. Augustine (354-430) taught that there is a God-shaped hole in us (I think it is located somewhere in our chest area) that only God can fill. We work hard in life to fill it with other things (idols), but none of these truly satisfies or fills the hole up.

Given that truth, our God does not want us to pursue these false gods. “Rather,” He says in verse 3🡪Give ear and come to Me; hear Me that your soul may live. False gods—like materialism, money, sex, power, influence, popularity, and intellectualism—are all dead ends. They ultimately leave us feeling disillusioned, empty, and dissatisfied. The American millionaire, Jay Gould (1836-1892, his assets then converted to today’s values= $78.3 billion) said as he lay dying, “I suppose I am the most miserable devil on earth.” Similarly the poet, Lord Byron, had fame creative genius, money, position, and lived a life of pleasure, yet he wrote in his poem, “On my Thirty-Sixth Year,” “The worm, the canker, and the grief are mine alone.” (J. Vernon McGee’s commentary on Isaiah 55, p.130). The day I defended my doctoral dissertation, my committee turned to me and each one shook my hand and said, “Congratulations, Dr. Adams!” I walked out of that experience feeling ecstatic, proud of that achievement. About 2-3 days later, however, I thought to myself, “Now what?” That great feeling of accomplishment did not last. But God offers us, through Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and our Bible reading, food for thought and living water that truly sustains us, more than money, fame, pleasure, or accomplishments.

Isaiah also urges us to be ready for God’s deliverance from captivity in Babylon for the Jews (this was the short term prophesy, as Isaiah wrote this before the Jewish population was carried off into captivity). Before He “lowered the boom” on them (enacted punishment) for their continued idolatry, God was already promising them a return to the land (70 years later, allowing the generation of the idolaters to die off). The prophet also foresaw a coming redemption from sin and death with Jesus’ 1st Advent (this is a mid-range prophesy which unfolded 700-750 years later). Finally, he forecasts judgment for us at Jesus’ 2nd Coming (this is the long term prophesy, which has not yet been fulfilled). This is why he says in verse 6🡪Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. In God’s mind, our opportunity to choose Him is time-limited (there is an expiration date). We are to remember that we don’t think on the same level or in the same way as He does.

B. David wrote Psalm 63 from the desert, as he was being pursued by the jealous and murderous King Saul. You would therefore think his first plea would be for God to “save his neck” (protect him from his enemy). Instead, his first request of God is for greater intimacy with Him (verses 1-2)🡪…earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You. He wants to see God (as do we all). He desires full-on access to God. If he can be close to God, he insists that (v.50)🡪My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods….(another food/drink image).

He only refers to God’s protection of him by verses 7-8🡪Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me. Even then, David does not ask for God’s protection and defense; instead, he regards it as a “given,” already believing that God will take care of him. Oh, if we all only had faith like that!

C. Paul gives us a history lesson in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. He recounts how the ancient Israelites blew off (dismissed and ignored) God. Verse 1🡪…our forefathers were all under the cloud…they all passed through the sea. He is saying that they were guided by God (His cloud by day, His pillar of fire by night) as they escaped slavery in Egypt. He also miraculously opened the Red Sea for them to cross. God ordained Moses as their leader. So, in a sense they… were baptized into Moses, meaning they identified with him as their leader—just as we identify with Jesus as our leader and submit to His authority in our own baptism. He goes on to recount in verse 3🡪They ate the same spiritual food [the manna] and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Remember how Jesus offers the woman at the well (John 4:10) living water, free flowing water that never runs out? This is eternal life. Also recall that He refers to Himself as (John 6:35) the bread of life. He is both our spiritual food and our spiritual drink. In a sense, God gave the Israelites in the wilderness Holy Communion before Jesus would later invent it. They had God’s direction, protection, and provision. Nevertheless, as Peterson puts it (The Message, v.11) But just experiencing God’s wonder and grace didn’t seem to mean much—most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.

Paul then goes on to list the ways they rebelled against God:

1.) Some became idolaters (Golden calf) (Exodus 32);

2.) Some committed sexual immorality (during pagan fertility rites)—23,000-24,000 died (Numbers 15:1-9).

3.) Some tested God (regarding food) He sent a wasting disease one time; poisonous snakes another (see Psalm 78:18; 95:9; and 106:14).

4.) Some even complained against God He sent a destroying angel (Numbers 16:41; 21:5-6).

When I was a child, I wrongly assumed that God indiscriminately killed off (smote) a bunch of folks and I felt sorry for them. I have since come to realize that God knows our hearts. He was well aware of who, among the 2 million coming out of Egypt, was guilty of great sin against Him. He singled out only the guilty for punishment, punishment they had been warned would take place. There would have been no cases of mistaken identity or guys punished who were not guilty. Don’t we wish this were so in our court systems today?

Next Paul says (v.11) These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. We can learn vicariously from their experiences. Unfortunately, we are just as capable of messing up as they were and yet, we have Jesus—the fulfillment of the ages. Thank God for Jesus, the fulfillment of over 325 prophesies from the Old Testament! He is our divine rescuer.

Paul concludes that he doesn’t want us to become overly confident, to be naïve, or to think we are exempt from temptations. Instead, he wants us to realize that our Lord never allows us to be tempted without providing us a way out. He is for us, not against us. He will rescue us if we but ask.

D. Jesus is very clear in the Gospel of Luke (13:1-9) that the time for choosing Him is now—Repent or Perish! He lists 2 examples of folks who died untimely deaths. He says their deaths were not due to their sinfulness. His point is that their deaths were unexpected. Since we don’t know the day or time that we will die, we want to get right with God and remain right with God. His fig-tree parable is a metaphor for the nation of Israel. God planted them and provided for them, but they had not gotten themselves right with God. Jesus was implying they still had time. God was/is mighty patient with them/us; but their time was running out, as is ours. For them, time ran out 35 years after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and dispersed the population

We don’t want to run out of time! We want to turn away from the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil and choose God’s free gifts of spiritual food and drink for our souls. This is the only thing that fills up the God-shaped hole in our lives. We want to see God and to be satisfied with intimacy with Him. We don’t want to rebel from God, taking His grace for granted, and sinfully cut ourselves off from Him to perish.

Perhaps you have heard this story: The captain of the ship looked into the dark night and saw faint lights in the distance. Immediately he told his signalman to send a message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south.”

Promptly a return message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north.”

The captain was angered; his command had been ignored. So he sent a second message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south—I am the captain!”

Soon another message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north—I am a seaman third class.”

Immediately the captain sent a third message, knowing the fear it would evoke: “Alter your course 10 degrees south—I am a battleship!”

Then the reply came: “Alter your course 10 degrees north—I am a lighthouse.”

(As read in Chuck Swindoll’s The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, pp.539-540.)

There is no safety or peace in rebellion from God. I believe we want to repent and to choose life, not perish!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Full-on Access to God

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 13, 2022

Scriptures: Gen 15:1-18; Ps 27; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 13:31-35

Children who have been taught about God have such lovely and simple faith in Him. Consider these letters written to God by kids (Google “Kids’ letters to God” to find more):

1. Dear Lord, Thank you for the nice day today. You even fooled the TV weatherman. Hank (7YO)

2. Dear Lord, Do you ever get mad? My mother gets mad all the time but she is only human. Yours truly, Kevin (8YO)

3. Dear God, How did you know you were God? Charles (9YO)

4. Dear God, I bet it is very hard to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in my family and I can never do it. Nan (8YO)

5. Dear God, My brother won’t let me play with his video games. Will you make him share? Love, Janey (6YO)

6. Dear God, Thank you for my baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy. James (8YO)

7. Dear God, Can you guess what is the biggest river of all of them? The Amazon. You ought to be able to because You made it. Ha, Ha. Guess who?

These letters are precious, aren’t they? The kids who wrote them have such simple faith. They see God as Someone to Whom they can take any complaint or concern. They think of God as Someone to Whom they can ask a question and expect an answer; Someone who will make things right;

Someone with Whom they can enjoy a joke or a riddle. They believe, rightly, that they have complete access to God—He is as close as a prayer, a letter, or a text. What happens to us in that we grow up and lose a sense of our full-on access to God? Maybe we think our concerns are too unimportant compared to those of the universe, or maybe we never developed the belief that we could just talk with God in the first place?

Nevertheless, Jesus applauded this kind of faith in us (Matt18:23) I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus wants us to have childlike faith in Him. He wants us to believe we have full-on access to Him.

Each of our Scripture passages today challenge us to believe in our full-on access to Jesus:

1.) In Genesis 15:1-19, God tells Abram (in what is His 4th appearance to him)—Abram who is still awaiting the Child of Promise—that He, God, is Abram’s shield and greatest treasure. In other words, God is Abram’s king or sovereign (shield)—as He is ours. God also wants Abram to know that He keeps His promises. The Lord reiterates that the heir, Isaac, is coming, as are many, many other descendants (v.3)🡪…look up at the heavens and count the stars—indeed if you can count them…So shall your offspring be. God also re-promises this wandering Aramean extensive properties of his own.

Abram has not yet seen either of these come true, but he believes in, trusts in God. In verse 6 we are told Abram believed the Lord, and He [God] credited it to him as righteousness. Jesus had not yet come to earth to redeem us, yet God saved Abram due to his faith (and his obedience). As I said here last week, our salvation is never due to our goodness or to our efforts, but always due to our God’s grace-filled response to our faith in Him. So, will we see Abraham in heaven? YES, we will!

Notice one other point: God reiterates His promises to Abram by literally “cutting a covenant” with him. In the Ancient Near East at that time, when you made a binding agreement with someone, you literally cut animal sacrifices in two and walked between them. You were saying, by so doing, “If I break this agreement, may I die as have these animals.” In this case, God was swearing an oath to Abram on God’s own life. Remarkable!

Also, the forms He used to represent Himself (remember, God is Spirit) are symbolic of the coming Christ: The smoking firepot represents the judgment Jesus will invoke at His 2nd Coming. The burning lamp represents Jesus as the light of the world. We could say, then, that God as the Pre-Incarnate Jesus, swore an oath with Abram. Jesus is surely our King and our greatest treasure!

2.) King David wrote Psalm 27. In the first 6 verses, David expresses his confident reliance upon the Lord. In verses 7-12, he then goes on to pray for deliverance from treacherous enemies. Interestingly, these enemies have leveled false charges against King David. As King Solomon would later write (Ecclesiastes 1:9)🡪What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. This is so like what we witness today, isn’t it, where politicians from one faction conjure up lies and conspiracy theories aimed at discrediting their opponents, and vice versa?

But in verse 4, David articulates his primary desire: One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple. King David desires full-on access to God. He’s got wealth and political power through his throne; He’s got either a land at peace, or military victories; He’s got wives and concubines as well as a bunch of kids (potential heirs). But more than these usual things people yearn for, before anything else, David desires intimate communication with the Lord.

3.) Our New Testament passage today is from Philippians. Just prior to today’s reading, in vv.13-14, Paul asserts🡪…but one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. What goal is he talking about? Intimacy with Jesus. He wants to be as close to Jesus as possible because as he goes on to say (v.20)🡪Our citizenship is in heaven. All that goes on here is a testing, a proving ground for rewards given us later in heaven. Those who don’t pass the test are what Paul calls (vv.18-19)…enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach [meaning satisfying their physical and emotional needs], and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

We don’t want to be like these folks. We want to keep our focus on the things of God, and the will of God.

4.) And if we were not clear on this, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, in Luke 13:31-35. Jesus is praying as He overlooks the city from some height. He is grieved because He knows what is to come:

His betrayal, a series of kangeroo trials, beatings, having His beard torn out, spit upon His face, and crucifixion. The city He has come to die for will soon reject Him. He is grieved because he knows that Jerusalem—the capital city of God’s chosen people—were not desperate enough to seek His face. They preferred to protect their idea of God while refusing and discarding the One Who was God. By discarding Jesus, they gave up a prime opportunity for full-on access to God.

On this, the 2nd Sunday of Lent, as we continue our spiritual housecleaning, we should be asking ourselves, “Where are we in relation to Jesus?” Chuck Swindoll shares the following story of a couple driving home one night from having celebrated their 25th anniversary: The wife was seated across the car, near the passenger side door, and the husband was seated behind the steering wheel as he was the designated driver. The wife said, “with a bit of heartache, ‘Honey, remember when we used to sit really close together in the car?’ And without a hesitation, her husband replied, ‘Well, Honey, I never moved. I’ve been right here all this time.’ ” (Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, 1998, p.307.) That’s how Our God is with us. He’s not moved away from us; we have distanced ourselves from Him.

Like Abram, King David, and St. Paul, we need to adjust our sights or our postures and pursue full-on access to Him. Abram trusted in God’s promises to him. Like Abram we can believe what God has told us, and trust in Him to fulfill His promises to us. David trusted in God’s protection and desired emotional and spiritual closeness with the Lord. He trusted God to protect him because God had done so in the past. David desired to stick to the Lord like glue—again he knew from experience that this is the best of all places to be. Similarly, Paul pursued closeness to God before all things.

He describes this pursuit like an Olympic race. We can imagine him pumping his arms and legs, breathing quickly and shallowly, focusing completely on the finish-line, straining forward as he crosses over. Like Paul, we want to (v.12)…press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

May our faith be as strong as these “Biblical greats.” May we seek full-on access with God like the children whose letters I read. This Lent, may it be so. May we wholeheartedly press on toward full-on access to Our God.

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Resisting Temptation

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 6, 2022

Scriptures: Deut 26:1-11; Ps 91:1-16; Ro 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13

Oscar Wilde, the Irish poet and playwright once wrote, “I can resist everything but temptation.” The story is told of a pastor who stayed in a moderately-priced Bed and Breakfast (B&B). He noticed at breakfast that the table was set with a lovely pewter salt and pepper set and with a matching pewter cream pitcher. He coveted the beautiful items before him and thought to himself how easily he could hide them away in his suitcase. He told himself the inn would hardly miss them. Then he thought some more and decided–if his theft became known–that it would…

1.) Definitely damage his Christian example to the inn-keeper,

2.) Scandalize his congregation,

3.) Form a terrible example to his children,

4.) And embarrass his wife and himself.

So he talked himself out of pilfering the items. Later, on a Sunday like today, when the Gospel centered on Jesus’ temptations, he told of his own temptation at the B&B. He wanted his congregation to know that we all–even including their pastor–could be tempted, but that the Christ-like response was to turn away from the seductions of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

A week later, a package arrived addressed to him. It contained that very set of dining accessories that he had been tempted to steal. Some kind soul in his congregation wanted him to have the pewter items he had loved at the inn, purchased them from the BNB, and sent them to him. The next Sunday he mentioned how grateful he was that someone had sent him the items from the BNB…and then went on to state that he had recently seen a new Lexus he loved (as recorded by Chuck Swindoll in The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.560).

Temptations are all around us, aren’t they? Are we like Oscar Wilde, unable to resist any? I hope not…and yet some temptations are very difficult to overcome.

Last year, on the First Sunday of Lent, I focused on how Jesus’ temptations were aimed by Satan at Jesus physically (turn stones into bread), psychologically (impress the crowd by jumping from a great height and being saved by angels), and spiritually (worship the devil, not God)—and that the evil one targets us in these ways also. This year, I want to focus on what Scripture tells us about how to overcome temptations:

1. Our Old Testament lesson, from Deuteronomy 26:1-11, focuses on our need to express our gratitude to God. In this passage, Moses was reminding the Israelites to offer to God always the first and finest of their harvest. This was a tangible means of expressing to the Lord their gratitude for all He had done for them:

a. He had fashioned them into a nation — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not Israelites (until God changed Jacob’s name to Israel). They were wandering Arameans (Syrians). 90 + Joseph, his wife and their 2 sons, or 94 of them sojourned in Egypt, where the Egyptians referred to them as He-bar-ew. 400 years later, they exited that country numbering 2 million Israelites.

b. He had led them out of slavery through Moses’ leadership at God’s direction.

c. He had tested and strengthened them during their wilderness wanderings.

d. And He had brought them, after 40 years, into (v.9)…a land flowing with milk and honey. As a kid, I took this literally and envisioned rapid rivers of milk and sluggish rivers of honey all over the Canaanite landscape. This phrase is metaphorical, however, meaning a peaceful, prosperous land. Cows don’t produce milk in chaotic conditions. Bees don’t settle in and manufacture honey when agitated. God was leading them to a new (to them), peaceful land where they could unpack their belongings and set down roots.

If they couldn’t think of anything to thank God for, Moses was suggesting they express gratitude to God for rescue and deliverance; for gracious provision (manna from heaven and water from rock); for His guidance and protection; for His love for them as individuals and as His chosen people.

Gratitude is a very fine place to hang our hats. To be grateful forces us to remember when God has met us and cared for us. Gratitude is also a good means of overcoming temptation. Temptation always focuses on what we do not have at the moment and creates an appetite for it. Gratitude reminds us to be content with what we have—you could say it helps settle cravings, whether physical, psychological, or spiritual.

2. Psalm 91 lays out for us beautifully how extensive is God’s protection of us. J. Vernon McGee talks about how many servicemen he knew in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam who would meditate upon and pray verses from this psalm daily—and then lived to tell their story.

Verse 3 asserts Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare [this can be any kind of trap], and from the deadly pestilence [Covid 19, poisonous gases, and other biological warfare]. Verse 5 declares You will not fear the terror of night [bombing, shelling, saboteurs] nor the arrow that flies by day [bullets or missiles]. Verse 13 proclaims You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent [any fierce enemy known for its strength/lethality]. How reassuring, how comforting to quote to self or comrades the following:

Verse 4 He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. This brings to mind how some bird mothers will cover their chicks as fire sweeps over them. The mother sacrifices her life to keep her babies alive.

Verse 7 promises ten thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. Why? The answer if found in verse 14 “Because He loves me,” says the Lord, ‘I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name.’ Here are 2 keys to God’s protection: Loving God, and having respect and reverence for, faith in His name. We can pray these same verses for the Ukrainians currently fighting to save their country. On a less drastic front, we can pray these same verses asking God to protect us from our many temptations.

3. In Romans 10:8-13, Paul is telling us that Jesus’ resurrection is at the very heart of the Gospel. He points out how easy it is to be saved: Verses 9-10 avow …if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. It’s not a matter of impressing God with your goodness or your ability to keep the rules. It’s not even a matter of regular church attendance or of receiving the sacraments—though both are very helpful to us. The thief on the Cross may never have attended Synagogue, nor was her probably baptized, yet Jesus told him his belief in Christ would place him in paradise that day. It’s a matter only of saying yes to Jesus: Believing He was resurrected from the dead, and inviting Him into your heart. And, if we aren’t already convinced, Paul reminds us (v.13) …for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. As I have said here before many times, God has made it easy. It is only skeptical people who want to make it more difficult than it is.

4. Jesus’ temptation by Satan is covered in 3 of the 4 Gospels– Matthew, Mark, and Luke—who were all concerned with demonstrating Jesus’ humanity. Each gospel assures us that Jesus was tempted as we are. We are only told of 3 major temptations, but we can be confident that our Lord was constantly bombarded by the evil one for 40 days–and did not succumb.

He is our model for overcoming temptation. First, He was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Remember, He was filled with the Holy Spirit at His baptism just prior to His 40 days in the desert. We too are empowered by the Spirit. We can’t often overcome temptation just by our own will-power. When I worked as a psychologist at a residential treatment center for alcohol and drug addiction, I often told the clients that if will power were sufficient to free them, they would already be free. For many people, will-power is not enough. We need the power of God to break free. The right thing to do is often the difficult thing to do…we need God’s help to do the right thing. Who did the pastor in my opening story think reminded him of the consequences of his proposed theft? That wasn’t just his own thinking. That was the Holy Spirit bringing to his mind all of the negative consequences of his proposed theft.

Second, Jesus was committed to following the Father’s will. This is a tough one for many of us. To discover God’s will for us, we need to read the Bible often to learn God’s general will for us; and then pray and listen to learn God’s will for us in a specific situation. The Rev. Mike Flynn, a famous American faith healer, says he envisions Jesus on His heavenly throne, looks to His face, asks if he should take a certain action, and looks to see if Jesus nods “yes” or shakes His head, “no.” Then he does what he believes the Lord has told him.

Third, Jesus quoted Scripture to Satan! Jesus countered every test with a verse from Scripture. Satan can cause us—like Eve in the garden when he asked, “Did God really say…?”—to mistrust God if we do not know His Word well. The Bible teaches us to know God’s character, and to recognize His Word, so that if someone tells us something is OK to do, we can extrapolate correctly what God would want us to do or to avoid. A lot of contemporary fictional works (novels, TV shows, and movies) promote sex outside of marriage as normative and right—just as they excuse abortion and encourage curses that abuse God’s name. These are sins. But we know that while God loves the sinner, He still is the final word on what constitutes sin, and He wants us to avoid these actions/behaviors/attitudes.

I remember when I first moved to assist at a church in New Orleans in 2003. The church clerical staff was reading Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, and thought it was true. I was appalled! Brown was raised a Christian, but totally misrepresents the truth of Christ in his novel. Skillfully weaving in fact with fiction, the author claims in his novel that the Catholic Church has for centuries tried to cover up the “fact” that Jesus bore a child with Mary Magdalene. Lord have mercy! Jesus Christ was sinless! He would never had had sex with a disciple only to abandon her and the child—afterall, he made provisions for His widowed mother from the Cross. My boss and I spent time with the staff to point out to them the errors and heresy in the novel. It became clear to me then that it is difficult to discern truth from error if you don’t know Scripture.

So how might we overcome temptation? We can…

1. Express our gratitude to God for all He has done for us.

This involves being mindful of and thankful for our many blessings. Each day recently, I awake, turn on the news, and praise God that the Ukrainians have held out against a massive aggressor for another day. Pray that these brave Ukrainians might have water, heat, food, electricity, medicine, and safety—all things we take for granted.

2. Pray for the Ukrainians to be protected and pray that God would continue to protect us from the assaults of our enemies, both human and demonic.

3. Rest in the knowledge that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

We can also look to Jesus’ example: He was empowered by the Holy Spirit. He was obedient to God’s will. And He responded to Satan’s temptations by quoting Scripture. As we work on our spiritual inventory this Lent, let’s put into practice the strategies our God has given us to overcome temptation. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory [over temptations] through our Lord Jesus Christ!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Ash Wednesday Message: God’s Forgiveness

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 2, 2022

Scriptures: Joel; 2:1-2, 12-17; Ps 51:1-17; 2 Cor 5:20-6:10; Matt 6:1-6, 16-21

Chuck Swindoll relates a story about John D. Rockefeller, (worth 418 billion in 2020 dollars) who built the Standard Oil gas and oil empire of 1870-1911. He was told one day that one of his executives had made a $2 million mistake (a big deal today, but even bigger in the 1880’s-1890’s). As with many such powerful men, Rockefeller was a perfectionist and a workaholic. He worked hard himself, and he demanded hard work and perfection from his employees as well. All the other executives were sure he was enraged and would definitely fire the man who had made the costly error. They all did their best to avoid the boss the day the costly error came to light–except for one vice president who had a scheduled appointment with Rockefeller that afternoon.

When the associate entered the boss’ office, Rockefeller eyed him and asked if he had heard of the massive loss. The vice president steadied himself, said he had heard, and braced to witness the boss’ explosion.

Instead, Rockefeller, replied, “Well, I have been sitting here listing all of our friend’s good qualities on this sheet of paper, and I’ve discovered that in the past he has made us many more times the amount he lost for us today by his one mistake. His good points far outweigh this one human error. So I think we ought to forgive him, don’t you?” (The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.215).

How magnanimous of Rockefeller! Kind of reminds us of our God, doesn’t it? Let’s see what our readings tonight tell us of God’s forgiveness.

1. In Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 the minor prophet is prophesying to the Southern Kingdom that The Day of the Lord—the day of judgment –is coming. In the short term, Judah will be overrun by locusts, resulting in widespread famine. But this is also a metaphor for the long-term prophesy that the Babylonians will invade/take over the Promised Land, unless they change their ways. So his message—from the Lord—is that they need to repent while they still have time. They can avoid locusts, famine, and a Babylonian takeover if they will…

a.) Return to the Lord (stop their worship of idols);

b.) Confess their sins; and

c.) Declare a holy fast, to demonstrate their renewed commitment to God.

Joel reminds them—and us–that God will give them another chance: Verse 13b says He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love…[and] He relents from sending calamity. In other words, God loves them and wants them to draw near to Him, to avoid His judgment. Our culture today is in a similar fix: We have stopped worshipping the One True God. Instead, we have made idols of money, influence, power, materialism, our own intellects, sexual experiences, etc. Like them, if we want to please God, we need to humble ourselves before Him, admit our sins and failures, and ask His forgiveness.

Thankfully, it’s still not too late to avoid God’s wrath and discipline, but they—and we–need to get busy! We need to ask ourselves, in the past year, have we been more concerned with the things of this world than with the things of God? This past year has the Lord always taken 1st place in our hearts? Or have we allowed other priorities, or our worries, to crowd Him out? Have we been so focused on those priorities and fears that we have neglected to nurture our vital relationship with Jesus?

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a period of spiritual house-cleaning lasting 40 days. Scholars have traced its observance to the early 100’s (Irenaeus of Lyons wrote of it). The 40 days are a reminder of the time Jesus fasted in the wilderness. Ashes are applied to the forehead, in the sign of the Cross, to remind us of the truth from Gen 3:19 (as told to Adam and Eve by God) Remember you are dust and to dust you will return. The ashes are a sign of our repentance and our sorrow for our sins. As such, they remind us of the need to maintain our commitment to love and please Almighty God.

2. David’s sorrow for his sins is perfectly recalled in Psalm 51.

The prophet Nathan has confronted him about his sins of coveting Uriah the Hittite’s wife, the beautiful Bathsheba; and of his subsequent adultery with her and murder of her warrior husband. His lament to God provides a perfect example of how we should feel about our own sins. He takes personal responsibility—he doesn’t blame Bathsheba or any others. He humbly pleads with God to forgive him and to cleanse his heart (v.10) Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast [right] spirit within me. David ended his life as a man after God’s own heart. This means that despite his sins, he pleased the Lord. We too, following David’s humble and heartfelt example, restore ourselves into God’s favor.

3. Paul calls for us to be reconciled to God in 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10. We do this by remembering that Jesus, who was sinless, took on all our sins so that we could stand before God with clear consciences and clean hearts. Paul also tells us we do this by not allowing anything to displace our focus on God.

Do you recognize the theme running through these passages? Remember what Jesus has done for us. Keep God 1st in our lives. Humble ourselves, taking frequent inventories of our sins. Seek God’s face and ask His forgiveness.

4. In Matt 6:1-6, 16-21, Jesus tells us how to best go about fasting and doing good in God’s name. We are to fast and practice good deeds quietly, without fanfare. He assures us that even if no one else notices, God does. And that this is how we store up lasting treasure for ourselves in heaven. It’s not how we get ourselves to heaven because Jesus has already done that for us. But it both blesses God’s heart and draws us closer to Him.

Again, today we begin the season of Lent. Instead of the usual agreement to fast, I am asking us all to add something. This will involve a sacrifice of time and energy, but you will be amazed at how it will bless others, and at how God will bless you because of it. I am asking you to pray daily for the people on our prayer list; for the women, children, and elderly of the war-torn country of Ukraine; and that our country would return to Christ.

Rather than pray, you may choose instead to make a list of all those you have not forgiven, and make a commitment to forgive them–a practice that will draw you closer to Christ. Let’s please the Lord by being as magnanimous as John D. Rockefeller. Let’s please the Lord by praying for others. Let’s please the Lord by forgiving others as He has forgiven us. Amen! May it be so!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams