Unshakable Faith

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 7, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 1:1-20; Ps 50; Heb 11:1-16; Lk 12:32-40

Years ago, Paul Harvey shared the story about a 3 year old boy who accompanied his mother to the grocery store. Before entering the store, she gave him strict instructions not to even ask for chocolate chip cookies—his favorites. She put him in the cart and they proceeded up and down the aisles, as she gathered her groceries.

He was doing fine until they reached the cookie and cracker aisle. He saw the bag of his favorite kind and asked his mother if she would buy them for him. She reminded him of what she had told him prior to entering the store, and said, “No.” He was disappointed but soon distracted as she wheeled him by other displays. Realizing she had forgotten soup crackers, she returned to the cookie aisle.

Once again, he asked, “Mom, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?” Again, his mother held firm: “No,” she said, and she reiterated, “we are not buying any cookies today.”

Finally, they arrived at the check-out counter. The boy, an experienced shopper, knew this is his last chance. As his Mom was unloading the contents of her buggy, he stood up in the seat and yelled, “In the name of Jesus, may I have some chocolate chip cookies?” Everyone in the check-out area stared, then broke into laughs and clapped. And while Mom gaped with open-mouth, 23 shoppers soon presented him with 23 bags of chocolate chip cookies.

I love this story! I shared it about 3 years ago as an illustration of the power of prayer. But today, I want to point out that this child knew that if he asked for something in Jesus’ name, he would get it. His mom had taught him about Jesus, and he had developed a child’s unshakable faith.

All of our Scripture passages today confirm our need for unshakable faith. Now this is not to say we never have doubts. Most of us ebb and flow, having unshakable faith some of the time and then less enduring faith at others. When we have doubts, we need to read Scripture, pray for faith—it is a spiritual gift—and remember that the devil’s first interaction with Eve in the Garden of Eden was to cast doubt on God’s goodness and on His word. Are our doubts legitimate or are they suggested to us by the evil one?

A. Our Isaiah (1:1-20) lesson reveals God’s deep unhappiness with the folks in Judah (the Southern Kingdom) because–like their brothers from the Northern Kingdom–they were headed, wheels off, toward the theological cliff. Speaking for God, the prophet Isaiah condemns them for their rebellion against the Lord. They have disobeyed Him. They have rejected Him and have turned their backs on Him. Yet they still go through the religious motions. Their Temple rites are impeccable.

Their sacrifices are given in the prescribed manner, according to what is laid out in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. But their hearts are far from God and He knows it! Their whole problem is spiritual apostasy. Religion without relationship is rebellion. They have the form of worship but not the substance. They are phonies and fakers—hypocrites–and they aren’t fooling God!

Even so, the Lord is willing to reason with them, in the heavenly courtroom. He is judge and He calls the rest of His creation as witnesses in the “trial” of His people. In verse 18, God says Come now, let us reason together…Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. Even now, at the 11th hour, He is willing to rescue them from plunging over the cliff. He says (vv.19-20) If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. How patient! How longsuffering! How loving, merciful, and willing to forgive! God is giving them yet another chance to demonstrate their obedience and unshakable faith in Him.

B. Similarly, Psalm 50 warns us of God’s coming judgment. As in Isaiah 1, the Lord calls for the heavens and the earth—all of His creation—to witness His righteous accusations against His people. Do you see the consistency of Scripture? Here we have two accounts, written by two different persons at separate times, but visualizing God bringing righteous accusations against His Chosen Ones in a court of law. Again, the people have been disobedient. They have rejected the Lord and continually violate His Law. They are apostate! They are neither faithful nor faith-filled. Furthermore, God does not need their sacrifices (v.13) If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. God is spirit. Does He even have to eat? If so, would He require our help? Not really, as every plant and animal on earth belongs to Him.

Instead, what God wants is for them to develop and live out unshakable faith in Him. This kind of faith is life-changing. This kind of faith is pleasing to God.

C. The Hebrews lesson comes from Chapter #11, or what is known as “the faith hall of fame.” The author of Hebrews first defines faith (v.1) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Then he (or she) posits that (v.2) This is what the ancients were commended for. Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham predated the incarnation of Jesus, as did all of the Old Testament patriarchs and heroes. They lived before Jesus came to earth. Nevertheless, we are assured that their faith—being sure of what they hoped for and certain of what they did not live to see—saved them.

Notice, with each patriarch, the verse begins with…

1.) oVerse 4–By faith, Abel…

2.) Verse 5–By faith, Enoch…

3.) Verse 7–By faith, Noah…

4.) Verse 8–By faith, Abraham….

Each of these men are examples to us of unshakable faith. That’s why they are included in the faith hall of fame. The writer to the Hebrews sums up the importance of faith in one sentence: (v.6) And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and the He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Again, our unshakable faith pleases God. Paul declares in Romans 10:9 …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. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.’

Unshakable faith saved those who came before Jesus’ 1st Coming and saves us who now have the benefit of His model and teaching.

D. In our Gospel lesson today, Luke 12:32-40, Jesus makes two points: First, He wants us to not put our trust in things/possessions that are transitory. As I said last week, none of us will be taking a U-Haul to heaven. Things can be swept away, like the homes and goods of those poor folks flooded out recently in Eastern Kentucky. Things can rot and be ruined. Money can be lost.

When I went to seminary in 1996, I had a 401K account with $28,000 in it. My 13 year old daughter got sick and we had no health insurance. I had to cash in that retirement account to afford her care as we searched all over for a diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment. She had Chronic Fatigue (practically unknown then) and something called POTS, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome; i.e., her blood pressure varied in unexplained and unexpected ways. If she stood too long, she grew faint. She could not sit through a school day, so I had to home-school her. Praise God there were seminarians who helped. A former math teacher tutored her in Algebra; a missionary to Tanzania who spoke French helped her keep up her foreign language; two wives of seminarians, who were certified teachers, taught her Biology and English, respectively. I coached her in Social Studies. God provided in such a way that she was able to take her GED and pass out of high school without attending.

Additionally, when I left seminary, the college I worked at—Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa—had paid into a retirement account for me (I directed their counseling center by day and took seminary classes at night and during the summers). That account, when I finished my training in ministry, contained $28,000. How’s that for identifying the hand of God? The Lord had replaced my retirement funds! That and a number of other events have led me to have unshakable faith in Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. We are to trust in God’s care and provision for us. Jesus says in verse 32–Do not be afraid little flock [believers], for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom [God’s rule and reign on earth].

And, secondly, He wants us to trust in and be ready for His 2nd Coming. Jesus uses the metaphor of a wedding in which He is the bridegroom and we are the servants. In Ancient Near Eastern weddings, the celebrations could continue, at the bride’s family’s home, for a week. Meanwhile, servants back at the groom’s house—where the newlyweds would live in a room he had added (imagine all of your adult life with your in-laws)—would not know when he might actually leave the celebration to return home with his new bride. So, servants needed to stay ready, like a baby-sitter—don’t be asleep or have a boyfriend over when the parents get home; or like teens when their folks are away—don’t be having a party. In this particular parable, Jesus says the Master will be delighted if he arrives home to find everyone ready to greet him. In fact—since the Master is Jesus—He will serve the servants (in John 13:4-16, He washes their feet).

Therefore, we need to be ready whether He (Jesus) comes again at the 2nd watch, 9:00 pm, or the 3rd watch, 3;00 am, today or tomorrow or months from now. Jesus is not a thief, but His 2nd Coming will be much like that of a thief in the night. No thief tells you when he/she plans to burgle your home. Why? Because if we knew when and what time some bad actor was coming to rob us, we would be prepared. We would have some brawny friends and probably a gun or two (and a cell-phone to record the event).

Perhaps you saw the video this week of the 80 year old liquor store owner who fired at a young felon trying to rob his store? He was prepared. Interestingly, the crook ran out and jumped into a BMW station-wagon. That’s a pretty pricey get-a-way vehicle. But I diverge.

The important point is that Christ’s return is certain, but the time and the day is not. So, we want to exercise a faith that is…sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

As I have said before, and often, the US is in a similar position now to Judah back then. Our challenge is how to develop an unshakable faith in Jesus. What can help us do this?:

First , we can pray. Faith is a spiritual gift that God would love to give us. We can ask Him for unshakable faith.

Second, we can remind ourselves that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. In his commentary on Isaiah 1, J. Vernon McGee cites a helpful poem:

Philosophy says: Think your way out.

Indulgence says: Drink your way out.

Politics says: Spend your way out.

Science says: Invent your way out.

Industry says: Work your way out.

Communism says: Strike your way out.

Fascism says: Bluff [or bully] your way out.

Militarism says: Fight your way out.

The Bible says: Pray your way out, but

Jesus Christ says: I am the way [out]….

(Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, p.29.)

God’s judgment is coming, but our faith in Him, through the work of Christ on the Cross, saves us.

Third, we can also try to live a life like the Old Testament saints from Hebrews 11, …being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham did not live to see and learn about Jesus. They came way before Jesus’ time on earth, but they hoped for God’s eventual rescue of humankind. No matter their difficult circumstances—and they each had some–they trusted (believed) in God’s goodness and His loving kindness. When we nurture an unshakable faith in Jesus Christ, we have gained our way out of the troubles of this world.

Finally, we can offer to God our sincere, heartfelt worship. No empty rituals, but actions that speak louder than our words. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️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

Claimed!

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 9, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 43:1-7; Ps 29; Acts 8:14-17; Lk 3:15-22

I told this story a few years back, but I believe it bears retelling: A young woman was applying to college. She was uncomfortable with the question on the admission form, Are you a leader? She figured colleges were looking for leaders, but she was also pretty clear that she wasn’t one. She filled the form in honestly by answering the question with a “No.” As a result, she expected to be rejected. What a surprise when she got back this response: Dear Applicant, a careful review of this year’s application forms reveals that we will be accepting 1,452 new leaders. We are also accepting you because we feel it is important that these 1,452 have at least one follower.

In our Gospel today (LK 3:15-17, 21-22), John the Baptist makes it clear that he is not the leader—the Promised Messiah—but rather His devoted follower. John, Jesus‘ cousin, is baptizing Israelites in the Jordan. Now we know that baptism is a sacrament, an outward, visible sign of an important, inward, spiritual truth. By being dunked (or sprinkled like we do), the people were indicating their intention to die to their sins. Going under the water indicated symbolically their decision to turn away from or die to their sins. Coming up out of the water symbolized their decision to commit their lives to God. In other words, John was preaching a revival and encouraging everyone who heard him to be baptized—both as a sign of their repentance (sorrow for sin) and of their desire to live a changed life.

Apparently, he preaches so effectively and so convincingly that the crowd began to wonder aloud if he could be the coming Messiah. He heard their murmurings and replied, “No, no no…not me! I’m just the warm-up act. I’m baptizing you with water…but Someone mightier is coming after me Who…” (according to Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message)…will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He is going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper perspective before God; everything false He’ll put out with the trash to be burned. John the Baptist is saying, “I’m not the Messiah, but only the prelude to what Jesus will accomplish in the lives of those willing to believe in Him.”

The difference between Jesus’ and John the Baptist’s baptisms is this: John’s baptism was about jettisoning the old life. In the movie, O Brother, where art thou?, the fugitive convict, Delmar, gets baptized in a river. Returning to his other 2 convict buddies, he is filled with joy! He exclaims, “I have been redeemed. The preacher said so. All my sins and wrongdoings has been wiped away, including robbing that Piggly-Wiggly.” Another convict pipes up, “Uh, Delmar, I thought you said you was innocent of those charges.” Delmar replies, “Well, I lied, but I been forgiven of that too.”

As far as we know, Jesus never baptized anyone with water. Instead, He imparted to them the Holy Spirit. He gave them/us the supernatural power to live a new life. Again, John’s baptism jettisoned the old life; Jesus’ baptism in the Holy Spirit empowers us to live a new one–a life in which we love and serve God and others.

Now Luke is not telling this story chronologically, because after he tells us that King Herod had John the Baptist arrested, Jesus comes on the scene to be baptized. Regardless of the order of events, Jesus was without sin, so what did He have to die to in baptism? What old life was He getting rid of? Matthew’s Gospel tells us He submitted to John’s water baptism to fulfill all righteousness (3:15); that is, to identify with our sinful natures; and to model for all the way we should turn to God. Notice that while He was being baptized by John, the rest of the Trinity showed up as well: The Holy Spirit took on the form of the white dove and hovered over His head, indicating that Jesus was now empowered for ministry. Some apocryphal gospels (not considered accurate enough to have been included in the “canon” of Scripture) describe Jesus healing birds and transforming things into butterflies as a child. This cannot be as He had not yet been baptized in the Spirit. When the dove descended upon Him, the God-man Jesus was then plugged into His supernatural power source. Additionally, the Father’s voice (which we have been told in Ps 29 is exceedingly powerful) pronounced: You are my Son whom I love; with You I am well pleased!

Wow, just before He begins His ministry of saving humankind, Jesus heard a powerful affirmation from His Father! He receives this wonderful blessing, His Father’s statement that He was not just pleased with Him, but well pleased.

Wouldn’t you have loved to have heard that from your earthly father? My step-father never even told me he loved me, but my Heavenly Father has. Modern psychology tells us that it is the father in the family—not the mother–who conveys to children their self-esteem. Isn’t it true that we all need our Father’s blessing to feel confident and good about ourselves? One of my seminary professors, Rev. Dr. John Rogers, conveyed the Father’s blessing to me every time I saw him after graduating. We would occasionally see one another at a clergy conference. He would come up to me, cup my face in his large hands, and kiss me on the forehead. I believed then and still do that the Lord used him to let me know He loved and approved of me. I pray you have had someone similar to do the same in your life!

Our Acts lesson (8:14-17) describes a situation in which a deacon, Philip, has baptized new Samaritan converts with water, and the Apostles Peter and John show up to baptize them with the Holy Spirit. You may recall (from Acts 7) that a deacon, named Stephen, was stoned to death in Jerusalem, with Saul (soon to become Paul) presiding over his execution.

This begins the first persecution of the early Church, with Jews beating, imprisoning, and killing Christ-followers. Why would God allow this to happen in His enfant church? He allowed it to prompt them to leave their Holy Huddle in Jerusalem and to take the Gospel—as Jesus commanded them (Acts 1:8)–to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

So Philip, a 2nd deacon, goes to a city in Samaria. We are told, in verses 5-8, that he preached the Word, performed miracles, healed the sick, and cast out demons there—what a powerful ministry! And…there was great joy in that city! Later, the apostles Peter and John are sent to check into this “city-wide-revival.” They approved Philip’s work, then went on to baptize the people with the Holy Spirit. Why follow up water-baptism with a baptism in the Holy Spirit? Remember, John the Baptist baptized with water, representing repentance for and cleansing from sin; representing a turning away from the pre-baptism life. Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit.

In our modern service of baptism, while sprinkling water on head of the person being baptized , we baptize him/her in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Immediately after this, I make the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead (with oil that has been blessed) and say, “_______, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and claimed as Christ’s own forever.” To be baptized by the Holy Spirit is like having the dove descend upon us as happened with Jesus. It means we have been claimed and adopted, by God–through the saving work of Jesus–as His beloved daughters and sons. It also means we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to reach out to others and to minister to them in Christ’s love.

So, all of us in this congregation have been baptized by both water and by the Holy Spirit (If you doubt this, please remain after church and I will pray with you to receive the Holy Spirit). Let us remember verse 1 from Isaiah 43–Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; You are mine! We have been claimed by God, through Jesus, and are now commissioned and empowered for ministry. This new year, let’s look for opportunities to tell others about Jesus and His impact on our lives. Let’s be like the fellow in the story of a father and son who “…arrived in a small western town looking for an uncle whom they had never seen. Suddenly, the father, pointing across the square to a man who was walking away from them, exclaimed, “There goes my uncle!” His son asked, “How do you know when you have not seen him before?” “Son, I know him because he walks exactly like my father.” If we walk in the Spirit, the world should know us by our walk (Related by Lee Roberson in, The Gold Mine , 2000, Sword of the Spirit Publishers). Amen. May it be so!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Faith: The Antidote to Fear

Pastor Sherry’s Message for March 29, 2020

Scripture Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:5-11; John 11:1-45

         Wow!  The fears that are being expressed across our nation, during the current threat of the Chinese Coronavirus, are just about overwhelming, aren’t they?  If you watch the news for any length of time—or check into social media–you will find your heartbeat accelerating, your sense of dread rising, and your desire to begin to hoard supplies snowballing. Along with this is a growing tendency of many to lose hope.  I spoke this week with a relative who lives in Seattle.  This person does not appear open to believing in God, but trusts in science and in the government to keep her safe.  She feels that neither has done so; thus, as a result, she is very angry and very frightened.  But for those of us who trust in God’s love and His power (rather than exclusively in science or in the efforts of humankind), we realize that our God is the God of all hope—and, as a result, we do not need to lose heart or hope, even in these perilous times.

         Our Scripture lessons appointed for today all stress this truth:  We can believe that our God can do something about every situation about which we feel powerless.  Take a look at the Ezekiel passage.  (You may want to read it now.)  The prophet Ezekiel is foretelling the restoration of the nation of Israel.  At the time of his writing, the Israelites had been taken captive by the Babylonians and had been exiled away from the Promised Land.  God is saying through His mouthpiece that He intends to revive them spiritually and to bring them home.  In a sense, they are dry, desiccated bones lying about in a disconnected disarray.  But God has the prophet speak life into them, and miraculously they reassemble in stages, from scattered fragments, to cadavers (reunited bodies, but without life), to a restored and living army or assembly.  Notice, it is God who gives them life.  He works through commands He gives to the prophet to relay, but the work of reviving life is His.  Our God has the power over life.  Should we really worry about a virus taking us out?  No!  And even if it does, we have eternal life and will simply cross over into an existence so much better than what we experience now.

         As Paul relates in his letter to the Romans (chapter 5, verse 6), The mind of sinful man [and woman] is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peaceIn other words,we are unable—without divine assistance—to overcome sin in our lives.  Or, as Peterson writes in his modern paraphrase, Those who think they can do it on their own [overcome sin by their own efforts] end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life.  Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God!  Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open into a spacious, free life.   Again, God can do in our lives—when we trust Him—immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us….(Ephesians 3:29).  So, we want to be smart.  We want to follow the recommendations that have come down to us from our President and our Governor about how to minimize our risk of infection now.  But, we do not want to lose heart!  We do not want to panic!  Those of us who know and love Jesus have… the peace of God which transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7).  This peace is not centered on what is going around in the world or in our country, but upon our relationship with the Rock, who is Christ Jesus.  He is our peace and He longs to give us His peace.

         Our psalm (130) encourages us to bring our fears to the One who can do something about them.  In verses 1-2, he says, Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; O Lord, hear my voice.  Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.  As you read or recite this, don’t you get the sense that the writer knows that our Lord hears his cry?  It is true that He knows and hears our pleas for safety and health in this current crisis.  We can convey those to Him with faith.  Like us, the Psalmist recognizes he is a sinner who has been forgiven through God’s grace.  He trusts that God hears, attends, and will answer and protect him.  In verses 5-6, he describes waiting on the Lord’s answer, not in an anxious, worried way, but with hopeful expectation.  I believe we can similarly await effective treatments for this dangerous virus, and may already have found several.  We can pray for a hedge of God’s protection around our healthcare workers as they contend with ameliorating symptoms and attempting to save lives.  Like Israel, we are to put our hope in the Lord (v.7),…for with the LORD is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption….

         Finally, our Gospel lesson gives us an example of a person (one of three mentioned in the New Testament: Jairus’ 12 year old daughter, the son of the widow of Nain, and now Lazarus, Jesus’ friend) who had died and was raised from the dead by Jesus.  A number of Christian scholars point out that these folks were not truly “resurrected” because when that happens the body is actually transformed or transfigured into something immortal in preparation for entering into eternity.  These three—and there may have been more not cited in the Gospels—were brought back to life, in this world, in their normal, everyday, mortal bodies.  And, sadly for them, they faced death again, at a later time, because those bodies came with expiration dates.  In verse 4, Jesus tells His disciples regarding Lazarus’ demise, This sickness will not end in death.  No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.  In other words, the Father meant for Jesus to demonstrate to the large group of Jerusalem Jews grieving with Mary and Martha that Jesus had the same power over life and death that the Father has.  What this strongly suggests to us is that nothing—not even the Chinese Coronavirus—comes into our lives without God’s permission; and, if God permits it, it is somehow going to be for His glory.  I believe God is already at work, inspiring talented doctors and scientists to develop treatment protocols and medications to control and defeat Covid-19.  Further I believe that when this is said and done, we will be able to look back and see God’s hand at work in ways we might not have anticipated.  Already, commentators are projecting that the pandemic will permanently alter the way we deliver college education; bring back “supply chains” of important resources to America from abroad; and draw families into closer, face-to-face communication.   With so many manufacturing concerns voluntarily retooling from their usual products to those required by hospitals and clinics now, there may be a resurgence of American patriotism and a renewed sense of togetherness despite our differences.  No one wants anyone to die, but I do believe there will be God-ordained benefits to be derived from this that will serve the greater good.

Jesus tells Martha (verses 25-26), I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die…. If we have Jesus, we have life! The great author, Fyodor Dostoevsky, learned this firsthand and it permanently changed his life. As an educated young man from a wealthy family, he flirted with communist and revolutionary thought in czarist Russia. Czar Nicholas 1st learned of his leanings and had him arrested, tried, and sentenced to death by a firing squad. Dostoevsky was blind-folded, dressed in burial clothes, bound, and led into a public square where he was tied to a post. The young writer next heard the rifles being cocked. The order was given, “Ready, aim,” but just at that moment—when the command “fire” was expected–a message arrived from the czar to commute the death penalty to 4 years of hard labor. Dostoevsky later wrote that he never totally recovered from this experience. On the train to prison in Siberia, an unnamed Christian gave him a copy of the New Testament, which he devoured. He then turned his life over to Christ. Despite witnessing great evil among some of his cellmates, he developed the belief that humans are only capable of loving if they believe they are loved. His greatest works are all novels which treat the issues of sin and repentance, grace, and forgiveness. In other words, coming so close to death radically altered his sense of what is important in life. How would you change your thinking or your life style if you knew you only had a moment or days to live? Dostoevsky has left us a record of how he changed. Wouldn’t you love to know how Lazarus was impacted by a second chance at life?

         Our God intends for us to live each day as persons who do not fear death or viruses.  We are to live as persons who know that God’s love is more important and more powerful that anything this world can throw at us.  Our faith in God is our antidote to fear.  Can we try to live this week and beyond—despite news reports and what others may say or write—as if we truly believe this?  Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ!

Copyright Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams 2020

Fear Not!

Pastor Sherry’s Message 

Scripture Readings: Sam.16:1-13; Ps 23; John 9:1-41

One of my heroes of the faith is a man named Charles Simeon (1758-1836).  He was an Englishman who was about 18 at the time of our Revolutionary War.  An Evangelical, Bible-believing, Anglican pastor and college professor, he had graduated from Eton & from Cambridge University.  Having had an encounter with Christ through his own Scripture readings on Easter Sunday, Charles had converted to Christianity at age 19.  He was definitely a unique person as there were apparently no other Christians at the University for the next 3 years.

Two years after graduating from Cambridge, in 1782, he was appointed by his Bishop to be the lead pastor at Holy Trinity Church–the most prominent church in Cambridge at the time.  Though typically Bishops then appointed clergy rather than their being “called” by individual congregations, Charles was a young man (24) for such an important position. As it turned out, many parishioners there didn’t want him because he believed in Jesus and he preached the Scriptures.  It was the era of the Enlightenment, when many intellectuals in England—and in this university city–had abandoned their faith in God in favor of trusting only in science.  They preferred an associate pastor, a Mr. Hammond, a guy who preached more to their liking.  So unable to get the Bishop to agree with their choice, they began a campaign to run Simeon off. For 12 years,

  1. They locked their pew doors so that anyone who came to services had to

stand in the aisles.

  1. They refused to let Simeon preach the Sunday afternoon service for 10

years.

  1. They slandered
  2. In addition, Cambridge students
  3. Derided his belief in the truth claims of the Bible;
  4. Ostracized the students he did convert;
  5. Disrupted services inside & created noisy demonstrations in thestreets to keep worshippers away;
  6. And threw tomatoes at Simeon as he entered the church yard.
  7. Cambridge University named him Dean for 9 years, even though his peers snubbed/avoided him because he was a follower of Jesus Christ.

What is truly astonishing to me about him is that he remained in that parish for 54 years (ages 24-77)!  He did not appear to be afraid of what they might do to him to drive him off; instead he simply out-persisted his antagonists!  Over the years he was there, he turned many hearts to Jesus through his patient endurance & faithful Gospel preaching (his sermons have been preserved in 21 volumes).  Though they had begun his tenure by hating and reviling him, by the time he died, the entire parish & University turned out for his funeral.  He had become beloved by town, gown, and parish.  He had served as a model of humility and perseverance. What sustained him through the first 12 years of energetic resistance? He never married, so it wasn’t a reassuring, supportive spouse.  So Who or What helped him to patiently persist all those lonely years?  The same Jesus, and the same Holy Spirit, who sustain, protect, and encourage each of us.

Right now, we are in voluntary quarantine due to the Chinese Corona Virus.  Let’s examine what the Scripture lessons appointed for today have to tell us about facing such threats without fear.

  • In our Old Testament lesson, Samuel anoints David King of Israel in about 1025BC. Now Israel had a king already, King Saul; but because he did not have a healthy respect for or a reverence for God, God had rejected him as the leader of His people.  So God sends the prophet Samuel to anoint someone else to take Saul’s place.  Afraid of Saul’s anger and vengeance, Samuel journeys to Bethlehem under a religious pretext.  Notice, the prophet doesn’t know God’s choice; he has to have Jesse parade 7 of his eight handsome sons before him (David was the baby of 10 kids, including 2 daughters).  The 7 older sons are tall and handsome, but God rejects them all.  The Lord tells His prophet, Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heartIt’s only when David is sent for, that God says, “Yes, this is my choice.”

Why is David God’s choice as King?  We tend to judge people by their looks, how much money they have, and/or their influence or status.  But God is mainly concerned with heart attitudes.  It’s due to David’s heart (his character) that God chooses him.  Later, he proves he is…

a.) courageous by killing Goliath, the giant, with just a slingshot;

b.) humble by assisting/serving the very man he is to replace;

c.) not vengeful because he refrains from killing Saul, even when Saul is

determined to kill him;

  • and commited to God, even though it takes another 15 years before

he actually begins his reign as king.

Please be aware that the prophet Samuel was very worried about going to Bethlehem.  Like us, facing this Chinese Coronavirus pandemic, he had the backing, the fortification, the defense of God’s presence with him.  We do not need to be afraid!  We do not need to panic, even if the culture around us seems to be freaking out.  We know Jesus, so we can know (and feel) peace.

  • In the 23rd Psalm, we learn that King David trusted God to lead, guide, & provide for him. Verse 4 relates to the issue of fear:  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You [God] are with me.  David had experienced God’s protection over and over again, and so have we.  I wonder if,  when we get to heaven, we will learn of the many threats against us–brought about by the Evil One–from which God will have rescued us?  To God be the glory, great things He has done!

 

Additionally, like Charles Simeon 2800 years later, King David spent 15 years in the school of hard knocks.  If you look at the lives of many Biblical Greats, we see the same pattern:

  • Abraham & Sarah anxiously wait 25 yrs. for the birth of Isaac;
  • Moses shepherds 40 yrs. before leading God’s people out of Egypt, then wanders about with them for another 40;
  • Joseph endures 7 yrs. as a slave & another 7 in prison before God raises him to second in command after Pharaoh.

The question is:  Why does God allow this sort of thing to happen to those who put their trust in Him?  We were given the answer in last week’s Epistle reading from Peterson’s The Message(Ro 5:3-5):  We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with  troubles [suffering], because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us [patient endurance], & how patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue [character], keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.  In alert expectancy [hope] such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged.  Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives thru the Holy Spirit!  In other words, God allows us to undergo suffering [like the Chinese CoronaVirus and its attendant quarantine] because our patient endurance of it molds and shapes our character.  Unless we get really angry with God, it makes us more dependent on Him.  We become acquainted with the Holy Spirit and we learn to listen to His voice for guidance.  As a result, our faith deepens.  Charles Simeon admitted he had a terrible temper and a sharp tongue prior to his 12 year struggle with the resistance at Holy Trinity Church.

 

3.)Our Gospel lesson relates the story of the man born blind.  What might his testimony have to tell us about facing fear?  For one thing, he’s cheeky, gutsy, and grateful.  Prior to meeting Jesus, he is an adult who has had to beg for his living.  Imagine never, ever having seen colors or dimensions; or not being able to observe the behavior of people or their facial expressions.  What about missing out on perceiving your mother or your father’s faces?  He encounters Christ and receives sight, for the first time ever. Wow!  What joy!  Though he might now have some concerns about how to make a living, on the whole, this is something to be thrilled about!

However, look at the response of the others around him:  Some of his neighbors doubt his identity and his healing.  The Pharisees grill him.  Like police with a suspect under a naked light bulb, they demand to know, “Who healed you?”  “Why was the One who healed you working on the Sabbath?”  In other words, they are trying to discern, “Is Jesus a good guy or a sinner?”  They don’t believe the man’s own account, so they call his parents.  Now, these parents are shrewd.  They know the attitude of Pharisees toward Jesus, and they’ve heard that the Pharisees are throwing Christ-followers out of the synagogue,.  So they refuse to commit themselves and send the issue back to their son:  “Hey, don’t ask us!  He’s a grown up!  Ask him!”  The Pharisees call the man back again, and want him to renounce Christ.  He won’t do it! [Good for him!]  Essentially he says, “This is my story and I’m sticking to it…I’m sticking with Him too!  And then they do excommunicate him.

This man is very brave in the face of economic and social ruin.  Excommunication from the synagogue in those days meant you were a pariah.  You could not talk with practicing Jews; you would not be invited to their homes; you had no way to make a living nor to worship God.  Yet this guy braves it all.  His reward?  He gets to see and he gets to see Jesus!

Truthfully, how much do we have to fear from the Virus?   In Whom do we trust?

When we consider the examples of Charles Simeon, from history, & of King David and the man born blind from our Scriptures, we are encouraged to Take heart!  The spiritual temptation, when we go through hard times, is to cringe,  to withdraw, and to lose faith in God’s power or desire to act on our behalf.  These individuals each urge us to keep our faith and keep our heads!  We want to trust in our God and in His loving protection of us.  We want to remember that our God uses hard times—like what we are going through now–to improve & refine us:

  • He knocks off our prickly edges, and hammers out our imperfections;
  • He molds and shapes us into the image of Jesus;
  • He softens our hearts and helps us to love as He does.

So, as Moses writes (Deuteronlmy 1:29), let us remember, Do not be terrified, do not be afraid [of the virus].  The Lord will fight for you!  Let’s remember to keep the faith and not surrender to fear.  Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Copyright 3/22/20201 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams