The Law of Sowing and Reaping

Pastor Sherry’s message for 9/26/2021,

Scriptures: Esther 7:1-10; 9:20-22; Ps 124; Jas 5:13-20; Mk 9:38-50

For several weeks we have examined the choice between living righteously for God and living foolishly for self. The story is told of two missionaries to a town called Efulan, in Cameroon, Africa, who became ill and had to return home to the US. They felt bad about abandoning their work and wondered what would become of the 6 men they had been able to convert to Christ. Two years later, they were able to return and were shocked to discover:

1. The 6 Jesus-followers had met weekly for prayer and Bible study;

2. They had witnessed to others about Jesus, to the extent that they became known as “the Jesus men.”

3. 25 years later, that church had grown from 6 men to 7000! Additionally, 3 indigenous ministers had been raised up and trained. And at a special service, 24 native elders helped distribute communion to the 7000 members.

It sounds shocking, I’m sure, that so much growth could take place without the 2 missionaries being there to mentor and teach. I had a similar lesson myself, about 30 years ago. Before going to seminary, I left a group counseling practice to set up an office on my own. It was a true financial risk, one I did not share with my clients. Instead, I closed down for a week to paint and decorate my new space, then launched into private practice. All of my clients moved with me, I was gratified to learn. What I had not expected, however, was how much they would grow and change without me. Each one had made some sort of break-through while I had been out of pocket. It was such a lesson in humility for me. As I discussed it with the Lord, I apologized to Him for thinking He needed me to heal my clients. I learned that week that He did the healing and I was just an instrument He could use or do without.

Those two unnamed missionaries lived for God. They worked faithfully in the mission-field of Cameroon. God grew their initial labor into a church in their absence. Like me, they had sown to the good, and God multiplied and blessed their efforts (as He did mine).

Paul states for us “The Law of Sowing and Reaping” in Galations 6:7-8–Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. This is not one of our Scripture passages appointed for today, but it does present the foundational theme common to them.

Once again, we are presented with the choice: if we do ungodly things, they tend to boomerang back on us; whereas, if we do good things—like the missionaries—blessings come back to us.

A. Esther 7:1-10; 9:20-22 explains why the Jews celebrate the feast of Purim. It is meant for them to express their gratitude for God’s divine deliverance. Queen Esther, an undercover Jewish woman, was chosen by King Xerxes of Persia to become his new wife/queen. (He had divorced the beautiful Vasti for having disobeyed s summons.) Now Haman, the King’s “Prime Minister,” hated the Jews–especially Esther’s Uncle Mordecai, a palace scribe. Haman sneakily encourages the King to pass an edict that would allow citizens of his entire empire to attack and kill Jews, all over his empire, on a certain, future date. Not realizing his queen was a Jewess, Xerxes signs the edict into law. Once he did so, according to Persian custom, his edict could not be rescinded.

Uncle Mordecai gets a message to Esther encouraging her to ask her husband to overrule his original edict with another which would allow Jews to defend themselves. Our passage today divulges her strategy: She invites the King and Haman to two banquets. During the first, she does not make her request. Xerxes is so pleased—and Haman is so flattered—that the King is willing to give her up to half his extensive kingdom. But, having primed the pump, she simply invites the two men back to a second banquet.

At the second, she reveals that she is Jewish and asks that the king spare her people who are set to be annihilated (by his own order). The King has a short memory. He fails to realize he signed a death warrant for all the Jews in Persia. Until Esther confronts Haman, Xerxes also fails to remember that Haman had initiated the idea. The King is furious over his dilemma and “takes 5” to mull over a response. In his absence, Haman appears to attack the Queen as she is reclining on her eating couch. Perhaps he is fearful and enraged, but maybe he is frantically entreating her forgiveness and mercy. Whatever Haman’s motives, Xerxes returns, and believes Haman intends to rape his wife in the king’s own palace. Ironically, Haman is sentenced to death—for abusing the queen–on the very gallows he had erected to hang Uncle Mordecai!

I think all of us would agree this is a dramatic example of the boomerang effect of the Law of Sowing and Reaping. There are other scriptural examples, as well: Old Testament Jacob tricked his blind father, Isaac; later Jacob’s 10 sons tricked him into believing his favorite son, Joseph, was dead. Additionally, Jacob cheated his brother, just as Uncle Laban later cheated him, again and again. Paul appears to have authorized the stoning of the first Christian martyr, Stephen; later, after his conversion, Paul himself is stoned, almost to death, on his 1st missionary journey. If we choose to do the devil’s work, the same kind of evil often later boomerangs back to us.

B. Psalm 124, on the other hand, recounts what happens to those who choose to love God—He protects them! King David recalls how God rescued the Israelites time and again. He is quick to give God the glory in his famous last line: Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. When we choose to honor God, to trust in God, He blesses us—a positive boomerang.

C. In James 5:13-20, the practical disciple reiterates King David’s point. God is trustworthy and takes care of us. If we love and serve Him, He answers our prayers and rescues us from trouble; He desires to heal us and to forgive us when we ask; and He delights in our praise. James gives us the example of Elijah whose God-directed prayers prevented rain in Israel for 3.5 years. Then, when again directed by God, his prayers brought on the rain. James reminds us in verse 16b—The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

There we have it: Righteous living results in prayers that are effective. What a fantastic positive boomerang! Incidentally, when I discover God withholding an answer to prayer I have repeatedly placed before Him, I have to consider what I may have done that might pose a sin-based-impediment to His taking action. Many of us get angry when God appears not to answer our prayers. Instead of being angry with Him, we might be better off examining our own hearts. It is, afterall, the prayers of a righteous person that are powerful and effective.

D. In Mark 9:38-50, Jesus spells out both a positive and a negative result of the Law of Sowing and Reaping. In verses 39-41, Jesus implies that blessings come to those who do miracles and provide physical refreshment to others in Jesus’ name. In other words, good deeds result in blessings. Conversely, in verses 42-48, Jesus states what happens to those who cause children (or “little ones”, perhaps “innocent ones”) to sin—it would be better for [them] to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around [their] neck[s]. It brings to mind pedophiles, doesn’t it? And people like sex traffickers and the Jeffrey Epstein’s and Harvey Weinstein’s of the world. There may be a special level of hell reserved for those folks. Again, if we perpetrate evil, it will boomerang back on us.

Jesus then goes on to exaggerate for effect. He says to cut off or gouge out any body part that leads us to sin. We are not meant to take this literally, blinding or mutilating ourselves. Instead, we want to make every effort to not cooperate with the evil one by sinning, especially in a habitual way. We want to remain committed to Christ and to ask His forgiveness when we stray.

Someone has composed a poem which summarizes the positive side of the Law of Sowing and reaping:

Life’s Mirror

There are loyal hearts, there are spirits brave;
There are souls that are pure and true;
Then give to others the best you have,
And the best will come back to you.

Give love, and love to your life will flow,
A strength in your inmost need;
Have faith, and other hearts will show
Their faith in your word and deed.

Give truth, and your gifts will be paid in kind,
And honor will honor meet;
And a kindly smile will surely find,
A smile that is just as sweet.

Give a helping hand to those in need,
And a harvest of golden grain
You’ll reap some day from the love-sown seed,
If you sowed in the Master’s Name.

For life is the mirror of king and slave—
‘Tis just what we are and do;
Then give to others the best you have,
And the best will come back to you.

This week, let’s try to be aware of which direction we are sowing toward. The Law of Sowing and Reaping is, like King Xerses’ edicts, immutable. Once our actions have put evil into play, we run the dire risk of having it return to us. However, on the other hand, when we put blessings into play, blessings come back to us. With a thought toward reaping God’s best, let’s be aware of doing our best toward Him and others. Amen! May it be so!

© 2021 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

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The Original Sister Wives

Pastor Sherry’s Message for July 26, 2020

Scripture: Gen 29:15-28

Have any of you watched the reality TV series, “Sister Wives?’’  I’ve not watched it nor am I recommending it.  It apparently follows the lives of Kody Brown, his 4 wives, and their combined 18 children.  They call themselves practitioners of “Plural Marriage,” better known to the rest of us as “Polygamy.”  They claim they decided to film the show to explain their beliefs and to benefit their children—and to make some money!  Some say it has demonstrated the friendship bonds of the wives; while others contend it exposes the jealousies and hurts one would expect in such an arrangement.  It seems the first wife has infertility issues, and has had only one child.  Wives #2 and #3 have had 6 children each.  Wife #4 has three kids from a previous marriage and two now with Kody.  Their unusual lifestyle makes me wonder if they are aware of today’s Old Testament lesson.

Genesis 29:15-28 was written about 4,000 years ago and concerns the patriarch, Jacob.  In Genesis 25, you may remember that he talks his brother Esau into trading his birthright (the rights of his inheritance as the first born) for a pot of stew.  This exposes Esau as impulsive, a man ruled by his fleshly appetites.  It reveals that Esau had no regard for the Covenant Promises God had made with his Grandfather, Abraham or with his Father, Isaac.  Esau is contemptuous of his spiritual inheritance.  He is a non-believer, a man of little faith in God.  And it demonstrates that the quiet homeboy, Jacob, was capable of setting an effective trap for his brother, the hunter.  Perhaps Jacob was smarter that Esau?  By Genesis 27, Jacob poses as his brother and deceives their now blind father, Isaac, into giving him his blessing as well.  Their mother, Rebekah, collaborates in this deception.  They demonstrate no respect for Isaac and no love for Esau.  They also display no faith in God to provide a way to work out His own prophesy.  Jacob gets his father’s blessing, but also his brother’s enmity.  He has to flee the Land for his life (remember, Esau is an excellent hunter).  His mother, it will turn out, will never see Jacob again.

Now, in Chapter 29, we find Jacob outside “the Land,” seeking a wife from among his Uncle Laben’s (Mother Rebekah’s brother) people.  Jacob doesn’t yet know it, but he has entered God’s spiritual woodshed, and is about to be severely disciplined.  He sees the beautiful Rachel at the well.  Like his mother Rebekah, she was providing water for the flocks.  Jacob sees her and it is love at first sight!  Uncle Laben invites him into the extended family and offers to pay his for his work.   Jacob offers to work for 7 years in exchange for a marriage to Rachel.  Laben has many flocks of sheep, goats and cattle.  He also has two daughters:  Leah, the elder one, whose name means “COW,” and Rachel, the younger, whose name means “EWE.”  Leah was said to have weak eyes.  Her eyes may have been lovely and blue, but it appears she was otherwise unattractive.  Rachel, on the other hand, was lovely in form and beautiful.  Simply put, she was a knock-out!

Maybe Laben thought that someone else would offer for Leah in the meantime, but he makes the deal and Jacob works off his 7 year commitment.  In fact, Scripture tells us (v.20), So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.  (Jacob had fallen hard!)

The time for the marriage ceremony arrives and Jacob says, Give me my wife.  My time is completed and I want to lie with her.  Yikes!  He’s pretty clear on what he wants, isn’t he?!  Some commentators say he should have been more specific:  He should have said, Give me Rachel.  No one had offered for Leah in the interim, so wily Label gowns and veils her and stuffs her into the marital tent under the cover of night.  We assume Jacob consummated the marriage, believing he had in his arms his heart’s desire, only to wake the next morning and discover Leah in Rachel’s place!

Let’s think for a moment about how each player in this drama may have felt:  Laben was no doubt happy to have gotten his less desirable, elder daughter off his hands.  But what about Leah?  Did she sense ahead of time how Jacob might have blamed her?  Did she love him?  Had she hoped he could come to love her?  Or was she mainly a pawn of her Father’s and ashamed of the duplicity?  What about Rachel?  This was to have been her wedding.  Was she disappointed?  Relieved?  Jealous?  Angry at her father?  We don’t now.  She may have perhaps been proud because Jacob immediately agreed to work another 7 years to gain her.  What of Jacob?  Was he disappointed?  Aggrieved?  Furious!  Did he feel resentful and bitter toward Laban?  Resentful and bitter toward Leah?  Determined to marry Rachel whatever it took?  Did he understand that God had allowed the trickster (him) to be tricked?  It is after all no accident that the elder preceded the younger.  It was also no accident that though he had stolen his brother’s birthright and blessing, he now had to work hard for 14 years to earn what he desired.

Ah, but the woodshed experienced didn’t end at the conclusion of 14 days and 2 marriage feasts:  No, we see the impact of unrequited love and a lack of appreciation.  Now we see the rivalry for Jacob’s love by the original “sister wives.”  (The reality TV series has nothing on this story!)  The Lord pities Leah because she is not loved. He blesses her with 4 sons:  (1) Reuben–the Lord sees affliction.  She says, (v.32) It is because the Lord has seen my misery.  Surely my husband will love me now. (2) Simeon–the Lord hears.  She explains (v.33), because the Lord heard that I am not loved, He gave me this one too.   (3) Levi (the priestly tribe)–hope for attachment.  Believing Jacob must surely come to love her now, she exclaims (v.34) Now at last my husband will become attached to me because I have borne him three sons.  (4) Judah (the royal tribe)–Praise for the Lord!  She then declared, (v.35) This time I will praise the Lord.  It appears that 4 sons later, she has given up on Jacob to affirm her worth and has learned to trust the Lord more.  She has become the truly more faith-filled wife.

Meanwhile, Rachel, the favored wife, is barren and envious of her sister.  She blames Jacob, but he seems to have no problem impregnating her sister.  So, like Grandmother Sarah, she gives her servant, Bilhah, to Jacob as a surrogate mother and 3rd wife.  Bilhah proceeds to bear two sons:  (5) Dan–God has vindicated.  Rachel celebrates his birth by saying (30:6), God has vindicated me.  He has listened to my pleas and given me a son.  (6) Naphtali–a mighty struggle.  Rachel exclaims, (v.8) I have had a great struggle with my sister and I have won.  Leah appears to have perked up at this time, and re-enters the contest:  She offers her servant woman, Zilpah, as surrogate wife #4 to Jacob—just as in the reality TV program.  Zilpah bears two sons:  (7) Gad–good fortune.  Leah says (v.11), what a good fortune!  (8) Asher–happy one.  Again, Leah is delighted and says (v.13), How happy I am!  The women will call me happy! 

It’s the top of the 9th inning, and the score is Leah 4 sons +2 surrogates vs. Rachel’s 2 surrogates.  Leah proceeds to bear two more sons and a daughter, Dinah:  (9) Issachar–God has given me my reward; (10) Zebulon–God has endowed me with a good dowry.  Having borne him 6 + 2 sons, Leah sadly asserts (v.20), This time my husband will treat me with honor because I have borne him 6 sons.  By this point, God has taken pity on Rachel and opened her womb.  She already has the two surrogate sons from Bilhah, but now actually bears (11) Joseph (his father’s favorite and the Old Testament character who most closely represents Jesus).  His name means, May He add/increase.  Rachel has just given birth and she is already looking forward to another son!  She declares (v.24), God has taken away my disgrace.  May the Lord add to me another son.   He does allow her to conceive (12) Benjamin, but dies just after giving him birth.  Jacob names him Son of my right hand.

Move ahead 20 years later, Jacob returns to “the Land,” with large flocks and 12 sons, but what has he learned (and what have we learned)?

  • He has learned that God will not allow His people to secure His blessing through deceptive and manipulative means. What goes around comes around, or as Scripture puts it, we reap what we sow.  If we treat others with deceit, someone will eventually deceive us.  If we abandon others, we will in turn be abandoned.  If we betray someone, we too will eventually be betrayed.  I have seen it happen again and again.
  • God’s plan for marriage is one man and one woman because “Plural Marriage” doesn’t work (See Leviticus 18:18). It leads to heartbreak. There is a real danger in thwarting human affection.  Isaac’s and Rebekah’s favoritism; Jacob and Esau’s lack of love for each other; the sister wives’ jealous competition with each other; the enmity and jealousy between the sons of Leah and the sons of Rachel each result from unloving behavior and attitudes toward one another.  This plural arrangement leads to jealous, unholy competition, and family discord.  Jacob’ family is a train wreck!  TCL or reality TV can spin it any way they want, but you will not convince me that Polygamy or “Plural Marriage” works.  Truthfully, marriage is difficult enough with only one partner!   Jacob’s family saga demonstrates that God’s plan is the best plan!
  • Finally, the real message of grace here, though, is that God has mercy on the unloved wife and blesses her. He also eventually blesses the favored, but dishonored, beloved wife.  Lastly, He redeems their duel by using the 12 sons to create the 12 tribes of Israel.  Praise God we truly do serve a God who can and does redeem our messes.

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Jacob’s Ladder

Pastor Sherry’s Message for July 19, 2020

Scriptures: Gen 28:10-19a; Ps 139:1-12, 23-24; Ro 8:12-25; Matt 13:24-30, 36-43

 Some years ago, I read a story in Christianity Today about a woman in India, who lived in a concrete sewer pipe with her husband and two kids.

Her name is Shivamma.  She was a member of the Dalit caste, the lowest of the low, pretty much untouchable—except for rape.  She remembers she was barren.  A Dalit Christian named Bangarraju prayed for her in her home and she conceived and bore two children, a son and a daughter.  The girl child became badly jaundiced.  Bangarraju returned, prayed, and the child was healed.  Shivamma became a Christian.  She says she accepted Christ  because, I realized that Jesus is the living God.  We used to drink and everyday we would fight, fight, fight.  Jesus Christ brought peace to our family.  I have no fear, because I have come to know the living God.  I trust Him.  God met her in her need, and she now trusts Him.

 In another story, there was a debate between a Christian and an Atheist.  The Atheist began his presentation by writing on a whiteboard, God is nowhere.  When the Christian speaker stood up to make his arguments, he erased nowhere and used the same letters to write, God is now here.

Let’s look at what our Scriptures have to say today about the twin themes of God’s presence and God’s knowledge of us.  In our OT lessonàGenesis 18:11-22, we encounter the patriarch, Jacob.

He is the younger of the twin boys born to Isaac and Rebekah.  He was named Jacob (which means heel grabber because he was born grasping his older twin’s heel; but it also carries the sense of deceiver, schemer.  God had told his mother, when pregnant, that the older will serve the younger.  In other words, God was reversing the usual order of things.

Even from the womb, God had determined that Jacob would be the one to carry out His plan of redemption from Abraham and Isaac.

Nevertheless, Isaac favors Esau, so Rebekah and Jacob collude to rob Esau of both his birthright and his father’s blessing.  Esau is furious when he discovers this, so Rebekah invents the pretext of needing to go abroad to find a suitable wife to help Jacob escape his brother’s wrath.  Jacob leaves the family compound.  Notice none of them bothers to check in with the Lord: Not Mama Rebekah; Not brother Esau; Not Papa Isaac; Not even the culprit, Jacob.  This does not appear to be a family of very firm faith!

Our passage today finds Jacob has put 40 miles between himself & Esau by the time he stops for the night.  He was “booking it” to get out of Canaan! How must he have felt? No doubt he was anxiously looking over his shoulder for his murderous brother.  He must have felt alone.  Perhaps he was worried about the long, potentially dangerous journey ahead of him, uncertain of his future.  Can you identify?  Maybe you find yourself in a dark & lonely place right now; perhaps you too are filled with uncertainty.  Maybe, like Jacob, it’s even your fault that you find yourself “out there, on your own.”  Well, this story was made for you (and me), so read on!

Jacob falls asleep (not the sleep of the just) and dreams of a ladder or a set of stairs reaching to heaven.  The Lord is at the top (“the Voice from top of stairs”), and Jacob, realizes he is sleeping, at the bottom.  Angels are traversing the ladder, some going up, others coming down.  The Lord reiterates to Jacob the promises He has made to Grandfather Abraham and Father Isaac:  I am giving you Propertyàthe land; Progenyàlots of descendants to populate the land and to bless all people of the earth; PresenceàGod would be with him; and ProtectionàGod says  I am with you and I will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land.  I will not leave you…. Notice:  God does not require anything of Jacob.  There is no if…then clause.

God has chosen an unlikely patriarch.  Even though, as Psalm 139 affirms, God knows his every thought and scheme.  There is no place Jacob can go where God might lose track of him (or of us).  Not departing the Promised Land for Haran (Syria); not getting lost in NYC or the Amazon jungle; not even by participating in a Witness Protection Program, in Minot, ND, where our names and ID’s are changed; Not living in a sewer pipe outside some remote Indian village—these are just issues of geography.

Not even struggling alone with a job loss, the death of a loved one, declining health, financial setbacks, or troubled relationships. Our God knows where we are emotionally and spiritually, besides.  He is the with us God, Emmanuel.  He knows our names.  He is always present to us.

Now do you notice Jacob’s response to God?  He doubts.  He has chutzpah, vowing to follow the Lord if God goes with him; if God protects him; if God provides for him; and if God brings him safely back to the land again.  To his credit, He sets up a memorial stone (and names it Bethelàhouse of God) to commemorate his encounter with the pre-incarnate Christ.   And he promises a tithe, a 10th of all God gives him.  But the schemer is bargaining with God.

I don’t’ know about you, but I take a great deal of comfort from the Jacob story:  Jacob is not of man of strong or good character.  He’s a liar;a trickster.  He’s not even a strong believer.  God has promised him 4 P’s without strings, but he puts conditions on his commitment to God.  He’s not perfect, but still God loves him.  We could say God goes out of His way to comfort Jacob.

If we follow Jacob’s story thru the next 22 chapters of Genesis, we find that the Lord does take Jacob to His woodshed/the Refiner’s Fire:  The deceiver is himself deceived, by wily Uncle Laban. He spends 20 years outside the land, working off debt to his Uncle; building up a family (12 sons, 1 daughter); and acquiring herds and wealth with which to support them.  He flees his Uncle when he returns to the Promised Land.  He fears a hostile reunion with the brother he wronged. His favorite wife dies in childbirth. His only daughter is raped.  His sons cause him grief.  They jealously sell his favorite son into slavery and lead him to believe Joseph is dead.  And, upon entering the Land, he wrestles all night with the pre-incarnate Christ, Who leaves him crippled, but changes his name from Jacob to Israelhe who struggles with God & men, and overcomes.

It’s a heck of a journey, isn’t it?  Jacob’s story makes me glad I am not him!  But it also assures me (and you) that God never deserts us; that He loves us even if we are Scallywags; and that He cares for us, faithfully.

Do you know that scholars believe Jacob’s Ladder is really an image, a prediction of Jesus?  Jesus, you see, mediates between us and God.  Jesus is our only way—our ladder, if you will–to heaven.

So what are the lessons we can draw from Jacob?  (1) If we think God doesn’t know where we are, or what we are thinking, we are grossly mistaken!  (2) Our God appears to enjoy overturning human convention and Human expectations.  He can do great things with the least likely.  He’s not discouraged by our rebellion, sinfulness, or unbelief.  (3) He clearly sees us as we are—there’s no hiding from Him, or fooling him–as well as who He wants us to become.

 There is an ancient Hebrew poem that I think sums this up very well:

Wherever I go…only Thou!

Wherever I stand…only Thou!

Just Thou!  Thou, Thou,

Thou!  When things are good,

Thou!  When things are bad…

Thou!  Thou, Thou, Thou!

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams