Worn Out and Done In

Pastor Sherry’s message for 6/19/2022

Scriptures: 1 Kings 19:1-18; Ps 42; Gal 3:23-29; Lk 8:26-39

What do we do when we are worn out and done in? Tired of carrying on? “On our last nerve”? Ready to “throw in the towel”? Frustrated and defeated? Out of our minds with anguish, or fear?

Our Old Testament lesson this morning, 1 Kings 19:1-18, presents us with just such a situation, and God’s rather surprising response.

The prophet, Elijah, has just enjoyed a miraculous victory over the false prophets of Baal. But then word comes to him that Queen Jezebel, a Baal-worshiper, has sworn to kill him for showing up her pagan priests.

Someone once said, Yesterday’s victories will not help you in tomorrow’s battles. (quoted by Delmer Chilton and John Fairless, The Lectionary Lab: Year C, 2015, p.217). Realizing she is a nasty, powerful, and vindictive woman, Elijah temporarily loses his religion and runs for his life. Without consulting the God he serves, he flees, then spends some time in the wilderness thinking over his situation, and decides he has had it with being a prophet. The life of a prophet is a difficult one. If you have ever been the truth speaker in a corrupt system, a badly run enterprise, or a vindictive clique, you know that truth-tellers (today we call them “whistle-blowers,” and they are protected by law) suffer. Later on, Jesus will famously say of the religious leaders of Jerusalem (Matt 23:37) O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you….

So Elijah is burnt out, depressed, and done in, afraid for his life, and hopes to turn in his prophet’s credentials. When he finally talks to the Lord, he tells Him he would just as soon die as continue on. Notice what God does: God does not engage him in a “pity party,” reviewing and recounting with him his troubles. Instead, He sends him supernatural sustenance and deep, recuperative sleep. The divine menu is so nutritious, and the rest so restorative, that Elijah is able to travel to a mountain, on foot, 40 days’ distant. He locates a cave in Mt. Horeb and settles in to wait on God.

God meets him there and curiously—since God knows everything—asks him (v.9) What are you doing here, Elijah? This is similar to when God asked Adam and Eve, after they sinned, Where are you? Had God really lost Adam and Eve in the garden? No. He wanted to see if they would admit their sin to Him. God knows what Elijah is doing there, so He must be waiting to see if Elijah can figure it out for himself. Elijah asserts he has been zealous in doing God’s work, but has encountered a bunch of serious trouble as a result. God then reveals Himself to him, not in the great things (ferocious wind, earthquake, and fire, usually signs of God’s judgment) but in a still, small whisper. After revealing Himself, God asks the same question again, (v.13) What are you doing here, Elijah? Notice again that the Lord really doesn’t respond to Elijah’s litany of troubles.

Instead, He wants Elijah to refocus on his calling. He reconfirms his calling, and sends Elijah back to do the work of a prophet: (1) He is to anoint two kings, Hazael (over Syria, a non-believing nation), and Jehu (in Ahab’s place, over Israel)—just as the prophet Samuel anointed King Saul and later, King David. A time will come when the Lord will tell Jehu to destroy Ahab’s dynasty (2 Kings 9:1-16), though Elijah will not be there to see it take place. And he is (2) to anoint his prophet successor, Elisha. Surprisingly, God appears to accept Elijah’s resignation. He reminds the prophet that He has reserved in Israel a remnant of 7,000 who love and worship Him.

What are the lessons we might take from this passage? First, God knows our struggles, our disappointments, our discouragement, our despair. Initially He may seem absent, but then He goes on to minister to our physical and psychological needs, restoring us, strengthening us. He often then reaffirms that to which He has called us.

As a single woman for over 40 years now, I have found the Lord always comes to my rescue economically, when I am down to my last few dollars. When I first hung out my shingle as a psychologist in 1991, I quickly found that if I needed $175 to pay my light bill, that amount is exactly what I made that day. He was teaching me to depend upon Him and He hasn’t failed me yet. Second, we may have come to the end of our rope, but God’s resources are vast and sufficient for our needs.

The journey God has us on is too great for us.

Elijah and we need the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and uphold us. We are overcomers by the blood of the Lamb. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Third, even if we think we are outnumbered by evil-doers and are the only ones we know who still love Jesus, we can trust that there are many others as yet unknown to us—and that God’s got us!.

Psalm 42 contains the heart cry of someone who feels alone and abandoned by God. Now we know we worship the “with us” God, Emmanuel. He never leaves or forsakes us. He has promised to be with us until the end of the age. So, like Elijah, even though we might fear the Lord has abandoned us, He has not. In verse 5, the psalmist asks himself why he is so bereft Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Then he provides his own antidote: Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.

If we ever feel like God has abandoned us, we have only to think deeply about the times in our past when He has been there for us. God does not change. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. We can also remember that Jesus has said (Matthew 16:18 on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.

Galatians 3:23-29 reminds us that we will never be abandoned by God because we are sons [and daughters] of His. Because we are “in Christ” by believing in Him, we are clothed with His righteousness. There are no “woke” divisions, no outcasts due to wrong political leanings, and no racial differences. In verse 28, Paul so famously states There is neither Jew nor Greek [no exclusions due to race or ethnicity], slave nor free [no exclusions due economic status], male nor female [no exclusions due to biological gender], for you are all one in Christ Jesus. The only criterion for inclusion is our love of and belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Our Gospel (Luke 8:26-39) today cites another particular case of a man who cannot claim membership in Christ’s Church because he is completely taken over by demons. Jesus, like God the Father with Elijah, is very calm and accommodating to the Demoniac. The poor man lacks any control over his life. He lives in isolation—never a good idea. Like lions who go after the sick and the lame, lagging behind the herd, the evil one picks us off when we are out of Christian fellowship. Even though the townspeople had tried to restrain him with chains, he uses superhuman strength to break them. I have witnessed this in the seriously mentally ill. They are often strong enough to break the holds of husky hospital attendants. This guy is so out of it that he cannot even tell Jesus his name. The strongest demon in him says his name is “Legion” (there were 6,000 soldiers in a Roman legion), meaning he is plagued by multitudes of demonic spirits. But Jesus, Who has power even over hordes of violent demons, casts them all out of him into a nearby herd of pigs. The pigs then flee into the lake and drown. The demons are destroyed. The man is restored to his right mind. He wants to follow Jesus, but the Lord tells him (v.39) Return home and tell how much God has done for you. Jesus wants him to become an evangelist, and we can assume—in his gratitude—that he does.

We worship the God who sees us and who hears us. He knows when we have reached the end of our rope and are ready to let go.

Chuck Swindoll relates the following commentary: Perhaps you recall the book by Rabbi Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People? R. C. Sproul [a famous Presbyterian preacher from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1900’s] had a great answer for that. Someone asked him on one occasion, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” His answer was classic. He said, “I haven’t met any good people yet, so I don’t know.” (Quoted in Swindoll’s The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.578). Or as Paul has written, Is any one without sin? No not one (Romans 3:10) and (Romans 3:23)…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

I think our tough times are tests, and no one escapes having them.

They may be sent by the evil one to discourage us and turn us away from God, but it seems that God allows them as a means of deepening our faith and of molding and shaping our character.

Nevertheless, our God is also the divine rescuer. He rescues a war-weary prophet. He restores a man totally overrun with demons.

Because we are His sons and daughters, He hears the cries of our hearts and responds.

The next time we find ourselves in a place of suffering, let’s try to have the attitude of today’s psalmist, as paraphrased in modern English by Eugene Peterson in The Message, p.965 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.

©️2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

The Relationship of the Trinity to Each Other and to Us

Pastor Sherry’s message for 6/12/2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(b.) Another version in Ukrainian;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©️2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

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

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

Mistaken Perceptions

Pastor Sherry’s message for 2/27/2022 Scriptures: Ex 34:29-35; Ps 99; 2 Cor 3:12-4:2; Lk 9:28-43

Have you ever noticed that a lot of fictional stories, novels, and movies are based on the premise of mistaken perceptions? I just finished reading a delightful, humorous novel about a young woman who is a modern day match-maker (a yenta). Despite all of the computer match-making sites, it seems some still prefer to have a human vet dating candidates. The novel’s protagonist contracts to help a workaholic, hot-shot, highly successful sports agent locate a bride. The guy is 35 years old, ready to get married but too busy being successful to look for a potential spouse on his own. He has risen from the wrong side of the tracks and thinks he wants his concept of a Proverbs 31 woman: someone graceful in social settings; a woman who is successful in her own right; someone attractive, well-dressed, well-read; and a person who, unlike him, is from an affluent and pedigreed background. Really, he’s seeking his idea of perfection.

To the match-maker’s distress, he runs through match after match that she provides him, finding fault with them all. Meanwhile, he fights against his increasing attraction to the match-maker. He enjoys her spunk and her intellect, but she doesn’t appear to meet the “attractive, well-dressed, affluent and pedigreed” characteristics on his list. He finally decides she’s the one for him after he sees her all dressed up and meets her over-achieving, influential, old-moneyed family. Thinking he wants to be with her only due to what he’s just discovered about her social pedigree and connections—which she has kept hidden—she turns down his marriage proposal. She thinks he likes her for the wrong reasons. Each has misperceived the other, like in the Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice.

Just as with that novel, the remainder of the story focuses on them each overcoming their mistaken perceptions and discovering “they were made for each other.”

Like the people in these kinds of stories, many of us trust our perceptions and act as if they are true, even when we discover they are not. Modern psychological research tells us that we are very reluctant to change our perceptions. We tend to go to great lengths to hold onto our mistaken perceptions, justifying them to ourselves—even if someone has been able to demonstrate how wrong we are.

Three of our Scriptures today touch on this issue of mistaken perceptions. Let’s examine them together.

1. In Exodus 34:29-35, we encounter an interesting phenomenon: Moses’ face shines following his having been in the presence of God the Father. Let’s consider first the backstory to this event: 3 months after crossing the Red Sea, Israel is encamped at the base of Mt. Sinai. They have violated their brand new covenant with God by worshipping a golden calf. They had already broken the 1st and 2nd commandments, the punishment for which was to have been death! In anger and grief—and to protect them from the death sentence–Moses breaks the original tablets containing the 10 Commandments. God then commands that Levites faithful to Him go throughout the camp, killing those who had been caught up in idolatry, or what God considers “spiritual adultery.” The guilty parties die, but how does the rest of the community get back into God’s good graces?

So Moses goes back up to meet with God, a 2nd time, to beg the Lord to forgive His people; to try to repair the broken covenant; and to request a new set of stone tablets. God, in response, identifies Himself as patient, loving, faithful, forgiving, and just. He also says He forgives or punishes sinners, as is appropriate, and He always knows who they are. The Lord thus demonstrates that His covenant promises depend more upon His unchanging nature than on Israel’s (or our) indifferent responses. He has compassion on those who repent. And He writes, a 2nd time, His Law on stone tablets.

As a result of this extraordinary encounter, Moses’ face shines!

He has experienced, he has personally witnessed, God’s glory and it is reflected on his countenance. At first, he appeared not to have been aware. But in verse 30, we are told🡪When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.

The glow from or the light on his face frightened them. He had to call them to himself to convince them it was still Moses that they saw, and that he was all right.

Interestingly, he then veiled himself as the glow wore off. He spoke to God and to the people bare-faced; but he “masked up” afterward, to prevent anyone from seeing the glow diminish. He was trying to manage their perceptions of him. He probably wanted their respect. He may have wanted them to remember he spoke frequently with the Lord.

2. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 that Moses veiled himself not because the people were afraid of him—at least not after the 1st time; but because Moses was embarrassed that the effect of having stood in God’s presence dimmed—returned to normal—after a time. Paul also wants us to understand that this veiling-of-the-face-business is a metaphor. The veil represents the Old Covenant, the Law. Paul would assert that the Jews still see Jesus correctly as a good teacher; but, incorrectly, they do not accept that Jesus is God. Because they do not perceive Jesus clearly, they miss that He totally fulfills the Law. Their “minds made dull” by their rejection of Christ (i.e., their mistaken perception) keeps them from participating in the New Covenant.

When we turn our hearts to Christ, the veil is removed. Rather than having to do, do, do the Law daily to avoid punishment for our sins, the Gospel tells us It is done! Jesus Christ has taken our punishment upon Himself. Our sins are paid for. We’ve been set free!

3. In our Gospel lesson, Luke 9:28-43, we see that Jesus too, in His glorified form, shines brightly! The Greek word for transfiguration is metamorphoom or we would say, metamorphosis. Paul tells us that we too will undergo this kind of transformation when we enter heaven. We too will shine in the reflection of the Lord’s presence.

Peter, James, and John are with Jesus and experience His transfiguration on the mountain. They see for themselves that His whole body radiates light—not a light pulsing upon Him but a bright light coming out from within Him. They think they have correctly perceived Him—like the guy in the novel who does not know his matchmaker comes from a background of privilege. They have only seen Jesus as the itinerant rabbi from a humble, rural background. They have seen Him do miracles, but they have not, heretofore, been exposed to Him in all His heavenly glory. He undergoes a metamorphosis before them into the God He really is. Unlike Moses, Jesus shines from within and the light emanating from Him is blazing!

Seeing Him this way should have convinced them that He truly is the Son of God. They saw Him with Elijah and Moses (and realized who they were)! They heard God the Father say (v.35) This is My Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to Him. A week earlier they had heard Jesus say (9:27) I tell you the truth, some who are standing here [including Peter, James and John] will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God. Jesus was foretelling this event, His transfiguration.

Both it and His resurrection confirm that He is God.

Their perceptions of Jesus were mistaken, too narrow, too limited. They had placed Him in a small cognitive box they had constructed around their mistaken perceptions of who Messiah would be and how he would act. The Transfiguration of Jesus should have helped them to enlarge that box and deepen their understanding of Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. The two figures with Him were both divinely favored heroes of Israel: Moses, like Jesus, had led God’s people out of bondage foreshadowed Jesus as savior and redeemer. Elijah was a great prophet who, like Jesus, held power over nature, and performed wonderful miracles. Nevertheless, the Father indicates Jesus is superior to them both.

You know by now I love to ask, “So what’s this mean to us?” I mean no disrespect as I ask us to consider what these Scriptures mean to us today, in our modern context.

First, I think it means we need to examine ourselves for our own mistaken perceptions about Jesus—and expand them where we are in error. I was leading an adult Bible study some years ago, and one of the members—in response to one of the “hard sayings” of Jesus—said his mother would not have been able to conceive of a Jesus like that. Her belief was that Jesus was only “meek and mild.” But we don’t want a veil to cover our eyes so we do not see Him correctly. This means remaining open to allowing the Scriptures to reveal Him in all His dimensions, in all of His glory, whether such passages “comfort the afflicted or afflict the comfortable.”

Second, I believe it also means we are safe in His arms. Russia may invade the Ukraine, but Jesus Christ is still Lord. He and the Father are not unaware of what is happening in our world. They are sovereign over all things. They hold our future (and that of the Ukrainians) in their capable hands.

It appears that God is allowing a shaking up our world. This is a time to turn to Him in prayer. This is a time to trust in Him and in His extraordinary power. This is a time for us to confidently reflect His love and grace. As Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew (5:16) In the same way, let your light [the light of Christ] shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Amen and amen.

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Kiss of God

Pastor Sherry’s message for 2/13/2022

Scriptures: Jer 17:5-10; Ps 1; 1 Cor 15:12-20; Lk 6:17-2

The following story comes from an anonymous source:

At age 16 Andor Foldes (1913-1992) was already a skilled pianist, but he was experiencing a troubled year. In the midst of the young Hungarian’s personal struggles, one of the most renowned pianists of the day came to Budapest. Emil von Sauer was famous not only for his abilities; he was also the last surviving pupil of the great Franz Liszt. Von Sauer requested that Foldes play for him. Foldes obliged with some of the most difficult works of Bach, Beethoven, and Schumann.

When he finished, von Sauer walked over to him and kissed him on the forehead. “My son,” he said, “when I was your age I became a student of Liszt. He kissed me on the forehead after my first lesson, saying, ‘Take good care of this kiss–it comes from Beethoven, who gave it to me after hearing me play. I have waited for years to pass on this sacred heritage, but now I feel you deserve it.”

How delightful! The master pianist, Sauer, passed on his blessing to the amateur, Foldes, with a kiss to the fellow’s forehead. Emil von Sauer, a German (1862-1942), had received the blessing from the famous Hungarian composer, Liszt (1811-1886); just as Liszt had received his blessing from the fabulous German composer, Ludvig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

I think several of our Scriptures today represent a kiss to our foreheads by our heavenly Father. One of my seminary professors used to greet me with a kiss to my forehead whenever we encountered each other at large church meetings after I had graduated. I always felt that his kiss represented God the Father’s blessing to me. In today’s lessons, God the Father and Jesus are telling us how to live a life that pleases Them. Their words, in Scripture, provide a pathway for us to God’s approval. Let’s examine them together:

In Jeremiah 17:5-10, the prophet shares with us the Father’s distinction between blessed and cursed people. Those who want to be blessed—kissed on their foreheads, as it were, by God—trust in Him. These folks are like trees planted by a consistent source of fresh water (lake, river, pond, or swamp). They don’t have to worry about heat or drought conditions. And—all things being equal, and given enough nutrients–they bear fruit at the appropriate season. In other words, they thrive!

Jeremiah contrasts these with the person who trusts instead in humankind, thinking they don’t need the Lord. We all know people like this. I have some in my extended family. They don’t believe they need God. Such a person, God says in verse 6 …will be like a bush in the wastelands; He [she] will not see prosperity when it comes. He [she] will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

We’ve all seen at least pictures of trees in such barren places. Their growth is stunted. They are but scraggly versions of what they could have become in a more hospitable environment. Surviving takes so much energy—using up all their resources– that they do not achieve their potential. Instead of receiving God’s kiss of blessing, they are cursed.

Jeremiah follows this contrast up with a warning: (v.9) The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? He is saying that we humans are adept at justifying what we want or desire, even to the point of lying to ourselves and others to get it. We may fool ourselves, and we may fool others, but we never fool God. Scripture tells us He is…the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:6). God asserts, in verse 10 I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve. He reads our hearts, our motives, our thoughts like we might read a book on our Kindles or Notebooks. Psalm 139:3-4 tells us that nothing about us (thoughts or actions) is hidden from His sight.

Psalm 1 re-states the same message, as it contrasts the behaviors of a blessed or happy person with an ungodly person.

The wise person chooses to align his/her life with God’s teaching, not the culture’s. The foolish person, on the other hand, is captured by wickedness/sin or slavishly complies with cultural dictates. The righteous ultimately prosper; while the lives of the foolish are ultimately—in the words of Peter, Paul, and Mary or Bob Dylan, from the 1960’s–“blowing in the wind.” The much more stable, wise person finds joy in God’s Word and walks by faith in Him.

Paul’s passage from 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 explains why blessed persons believe in Jesus: because of His Resurrection. Paul was preaching against 3 philosophical views of death common to the folks of Corinth:

1. The Epicureans believed there was no existence beyond this life (therefore, no resurrection).

2. The Stoics believed the soul, at death, merged into the divine, losing all individuality and personality. Somehow we were all to merge with the universe.

3. The followers of Plato believed the spirit was immortal but the body (which was seen as evil and not worth saving) did not rise from the dead. Paul rightly preached the Christian view that there is a bodily resurrection.

The Greek words he used for resurrection were anastasis nekron. which iterally means the standing up of a body. When we die, our body is resurrected with our spirit. Furthermore, as proof, the resurrected Jesus appeared in His human body, complete with nail-holes and the spear wound to His side.

Paul says we can trust that Jesus truly did overcome death because He was seen after His resurrection by so many eye-witnesses:

1. Cephas (Peter); Paul doesn’t mention Mary Magdalene (John:20:10-19); the other Mary or Joanna (Luke 24:9-10); Salome (Mark 16:1); or the two on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35);

2. “the Twelve” to represent the 11 remaining disciples (Judas had already hanged himself);

3. 500 disciples who traveled on to meet Him in Galilee;

4. James, His brother;

5. and finally, the Apostle Paul.

Jesus’ resurrection is a well-supported historical fact. There is more evidence, from Christian as well as non-Christian sources of the day, to prove Jesus came back from the dead than there is for the existence of Julius Caesar.

Finally, in our Gospel today, Jesus preaches what have become known as the Lucan Beatitudes (as opposed to those cited in Matthew, chapters 5-6), from the Sermon on the Plain (vs. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount). He promises that the poor, those who are hungry, those who grieve, and those who are persecuted for His sake will all be blessed. As in Psalm 1 and in Jeremiah 17, He then contrasts between those who are blessed and those who at their deaths will be afflicted, despairing, and anguished (cursed): He says, Woe to the rich because they have already received their rewards on earth. Woe to the well-fed for they will go hungry later. Remember Jesus’ parable of Lazarus (the beggar) and Dives (the rich man)? The rich man died, went to hell, and implored of Abraham in heaven that he tell Lazarus to give him some water.

Abraham replied (Luke 16:25-26) …Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us. Woe to those who laugh now (the mockers) for they will mourn later. And woe to those who are highly regarded by the culture as this was true of the false prophets. They received the acclaim of unwise people but did not impress God.

So how might we anticipate receiving the kiss of God? I thank God it’s not based on how well we play the piano, as I can’t play a note! Rather, it appears that God is willing to bestow His blessing, His kiss, on those who…

1. Put their hope, their faith, their trust in God and Jesus rather than in people.

2. Try to live their lives according to God’s Word (the Bible), rather than what’s popular in the culture.

3. Believe in Jesus.

4. And look to Jesus, rather than to their own efforts, to fulfill them.

Holy Spirit, help this to be the case with all of us! May we each receive a kiss from God on our foreheads because we trust Him, love Him, and seek to do His will. May we each one day arrive in Heaven to hear from Him, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Knowing Who We Are and What We Are Called to Do

Pastor Sherry’s message for 1/23/2022

Scriptures: Neh 8:1-10; Ps 19; 1Cor 12:12-31a; Lk 4:14-21

The story is told of a man who found a young eagle that had fallen from its nest ….

“He took it home and put it in his barnyard where it soon learned to eat and behave like the chickens. One day a naturalist passed by the farm and asked why it was that the king of all birds should be confined to live in the barnyard with the chickens. The farmer replied that since he had given it chicken feed and trained it to be a chicken, it had never learned to fly. Since it now behaved as the chickens, it was no longer an eagle.

Still it has the heart of an eagle,’ replied the naturalist, ‘and can surely be taught to fly.’ He lifted the eagle toward the sky and said, ‘You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth your wings and fly.’ The eagle, however, was confused. He did not know who he was, and seeing the chickens eating their food, he jumped down to be with them again.

‘The naturalist took the bird to the roof of the house and urged him again, saying, ‘You are an eagle. Stretch forth your wings and fly.’ But the eagle was afraid of this unknown self and world and jumped down once more for the chicken food. Finally the naturalist took the eagle out of the barnyard to a high mountain. There he held the king of the birds high above him and encouraged him again, saying, ‘You are an eagle. You belong to the sky. Stretch forth your wings and fly.’ The eagle looked around, back towards the barnyard and up to the sky. Then the naturalist lifted him straight towards the sun and it happened that the eagle began to tremble. Slowly he stretched his wings, and with a triumphant cry, soared away into the heavens.

‘It may be that the eagle still remembers the chickens with nostalgia. It may even be that he occasionally revisits the barnyard. But as far as anyone knows, he has never returned to lead the life of a chicken.” (Theology News and Notes, October, 1976, quoted in Multnomah Message, Spring, 1993, p. 1).

The eagle had a case of confused identity. He didn’t know who he was—a chicken or an eagle. He didn’t know his purpose—to peck for food on the ground, like a strange domestic; or to soar the heavens as a magnificent raptor. We can often be like that, can’t we? We can limit who we are, and we can miss out on our purpose.

Let’s see what our Scripture passages today have to about our identity and our purpose.

A. Our Old Testament lesson comes from Nehemiah 8:1-10, and takes place in Jerusalem in 445BC, roughly 2500 years ago. Jewish POW’s of first the Babylonian, then the Persian Empires, had been set free by the Persian king, Artaxerxes, to return to their homeland. Under the oversight and direction of their governor, Nehemiah, they had completed the massive rebuilding of the city walls in just 52 days. Ezra, their priest had begun the sad reconstruction of the Temple, which would take many more years. We find them today assembled–on the equivalent of their New Year’s Day—inside the Water Gate (1 of the 12 refurbished gates of the city). You may recall that business, legal, and political matters were debated and decided, in those days, at the city gates. So this wasn’t just some narrow passageway, but a gate opening into a sizeable square or assembly area.

Again, they had to meet there because reconstruction of the Temple was not accomplished.

Ezra and Nehemiah had convened a “solemn assembly” of all the returning citizens. Scholars estimate some 49,000 men, women, and children of an age to understand [perhaps ages 8-10 and above], had gathered there—with someone providing child care for the younger ones. After 70 years of exile in a foreign nation, they may have held Bible studies there, but chances are good that they had not really been formally taught the Torah (the Law). The word has gotten around, however, that someone had found a copy of the Law of Moses during the Temple rebuilding project. The People wanted to know what it said. They realized they had been punished by God for their idolatry and for not obeying His Law. They wanted to be sure they didn’t err in the same way their grandparents had.

Notice what happens. Ezra proclaims God’s word, in a loud voice, from a raised platform (perhaps the first pulpit). The people remain standing, and quiet, and as they listen for some 4-6 hours! This is where the synagogue tradition of standing for the reading of Scripture began. In Eastern Orthodox congregations—and in the middle ages in Europe–people stood for the entire service. That’s why we find there large cathedrals with no pews. Today, we stand for the reading of the Gospel, the Creed, and communion. Standing is a sign of respect, a sign of reverence. These folks are hearing God’s word read to them—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—perhaps for the first time.

Additionally, there are Levites available to walk among the crowd and explain what God’s Word means. Scholars believe the people may not have understood the Hebrew, as they had probably been speaking Aramaic or even Persian/Farsi. So the teachers of the Law were there to answer questions and to explain. This is probably the most important job we pastors now do—explain the meaning of Scripture, as best as we can. The pre-Reformation Catholic Church had moved away from this important duty. The Protestant Reformers were thus insistent that we preach and explain God’s Word. This is why I park on the Scripture passages appointed for the day in all of my sermons. Like the people of Nehemiah’s day, we cannot obey God’s Word if we don’t know or understand it.

The people respond with AMEN, AMEN! May it be so, hands lifted, praising God. We say, Thanks be to God! following our reading of Scripture and hopefully we mean it. They then became convicted of their sinfulness. They now knew the standard. They also realized how far short of God’s standard they had lived, and how the sins of their forebears had led to the destruction of their country, and to their 70 year exile as a subjugated people. So, they prostrate themselves and cry tears of repentance. But Ezra, Nehemiah, the 13 on the platform, and the Levites among them, tell them not to grieve or mourn. For a time they had lost their identity and their purpose! But God brought them out of captivity. He once again delivered them and restored them. He hadn’t turned His back on them. And now they had a new chance to get it right. This, then, is an occasion to celebrate, to rejoice about the goodness and mercy of the Lord.

Nehemiah tells them, (v.10)—Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Just what does that mean? It doesn’t say, I bring God joy when I praise Him (though we probably do). It doesn’t say, My joy about God makes me strong (though it may). Both of the above statements begin in the wrong place: with ME. The true starting place, always, is with GOD. God’s joy is the foundation for our strength. So, what brings Him joy? When we remember our identity begins with our belief in Him, as His beloved children, and our purpose is to be obedient to Him.

B. Our Gospel lesson today comes from Luke 4:14-21. Jesus has returned home to Nazareth (following His baptism, 40 days in the wilderness, and probably the wedding at Cana. He goes to the Synagogue on the Sabbath, as was His custom. The synagogue at Nazareth would have been His “home church.” When I visited my home church in Tallahassee from seminary in Pittsburgh, it was always such a blessing and a celebration to greet old friends. This must have been true for Jesus too as they invited Him to read the Scripture appointed for the day and to preach.

Now Jesus knows Who He is—the beloved Son of God. He also knows His mission–to redeem the world—which He no doubt came to grips with during His time of prayer, meditation, and temptation in the wilderness.

And He would have realized the Scripture, Isaiah 61:1-2a, was His mission-statement. He reads aloud for the congregation what Isaiah had predicted about Him 700-750 years before His birth: Anointed by the HS, He would…

[1] Preach good news to the poor (God loves you and has sent Me to save you);

[2] I will proclaim freedom to prisoners (people whose own sin has captured them);

[3] I will recover sight for the blind;

[4] I will release those who have been captured and injured by the sins of others;

[5] And I will proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor: This is it! God has sent you the Messiah!

Then He sat down (the traditional posture of a teacher) and told them that what the prophet had predicted has now come true in Him. In other words, Jesus knows His identity and His purpose. Do we each know who we are and what we are called to do?

This week, let’s try to remember our true identity comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ.

1. Not from our profession;

2. Not from our marital status;

3. Not from our family name or our friendship circle;

4. Not from where we live;

5. Not from what sports team or political candidate we support;

6. Not even from our gender orientation.

7. No, we are children of God and inheritors of His Kingdom through Christ Jesus. That is our prime and most important identity.

And our purpose derives from that: We are here on earth, at this time and place, to know, love, and serve God. Christians means little Christs. We are to imitate Jesus in the way we behave.

Allow me to close with a story regarding the 19th century French artist Paul Gustave Dore, taken from Our Daily Bread, 01/06/1993. (Dore was famous as an illustrator of books, including the Bible, fairy tales, and other poems and novels of the day:

The renowned artist Paul Gustave Dore (1821-1883) lost his passport while traveling in Europe. When he came to a border crossing, he explained his predicament to one of the guards. Giving his name to the official, Dore hoped he would be recognized and allowed to pass. The guard, however, said that many people attempted to cross the border by claiming to be persons they were not. Dore insisted that he was the man he claimed to be. “All right,” said the official, “we’ll give you a test, and if you pass it we’ll allow you to go through.” Handing him a pencil and a sheet of paper, he told the artist to sketch several peasants standing nearby. Dore did it so quickly and skillfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. His work confirmed his word!

This week, let us remember, we are eagles called to be eagles, not chickens. May what we say and do reflect who we are. AMEN! (May it be so!)

©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

Re-JOY-ce!

Pastor Sherry’s message for December 12, 2021

Scriptures: Zeph 3:14-20; Isa 12:2-6; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:7-18

Dr. Helen Roseveare, missionary to Zaire, told the following story: “A mother at our mission station died after giving birth to a premature baby. We tried to improvise an incubator to keep the infant alive, but the only hot water bottle we had was beyond repair. So we asked the children to pray for the baby and for her sister. One of the girls responded. ‘Dear God, please send a hot water bottle today. Tomorrow will be too late because by then the baby will be dead. And dear Lord, send a doll for the sister so she won’t feel so lonely.’ That afternoon a large package arrived from England. The children watched eagerly as we opened it. Much to their surprise, under some clothing was a hot water bottle! Immediately the girl who had prayed so earnestly started to dig deeper, exclaiming, ‘If God sent that, I’m sure He also sent a doll!’ And she was right! The heavenly Father knew in advance of that child’s sincere requests, and 5 months earlier He had led a ladies’ group to include both of those specific articles.” (source unknown)

Have you ever noticed that this is the way our God often answers prayer? The results appear to be instantaneous, but God had the request in mind—and answered it–even before someone asked. We have learned this often happens with the Christmas shoeboxes we so recently packed and shipped. My favorite example is of the young boy who wanted a black t-shirt and a black hat, and was overjoyed to find one in his gift box. (I would not have thought to send a black pair, but a hat and shirt that was colorful. Instead someone packed just what this child wanted and God saw to it that he was the one who received that shoe box. And isn’t it true that we who prayed are often shocked, amazed, and filled with joy when we witness how God has answered our prayers?

In discussing God’s answers to prayers, Bill Hybels, in his book, Too Busy Not To Pray (IVP, 2008, p.74), writes:

If the request is wrong, God says, “No!”

If the timing is wrong, God says, “Slow.”

If you are wrong, God says, “Grow.”

But if the request is right, the timing is right and you are right, God says, “GO!”

Hybels obviously believes God always answers our prayers; He just doesn’t always answer them in the way we desire.

Our Scripture passages, on this 3rd Sunday of Advent, all revolve around God’s response to the prayers of believers. Remember, today we lit the candle representing “Joy,” the joy the shepherds experienced when the angel choirs told them Messiah had arrived.

A. The prophet, Zephaniah (3:14-20), foretells Jesus’ 2nd Coming as a warrior God! When Christ returns, at some unknown future date, He will have the authority to set all things right! This will not be “Jesus, Meek and Mild.” Instead, He will come back to earth in all of his kingly glory. The first time He came, it was as a poor baby, born to a homeless couple. But when he comes back, it will be as the all-powerful King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Zephaniah wants his Jewish audience–and us–to know we will then have nothing to fear! Non-believers will be shaking in their boots as they face judgment; but we who love Jesus will experience great joy! In verse 17, Zephaniah predicts we will never again be afraid or anxious! How wonderful is that?! Instead, we will experience God’s delight with us. It will be as if we are infants in His arms, as He quiets us with His love, and rejoices over us with singing. When has anyone rejoiced over you with singing? Maybe your mom or dad sang lullabies over you as a child, or perhaps people sing for your birthday, but otherwise, it isn’t often than anyone sings over us. But imagine, the Great God of the Universe will do this with each of us who has asked Jesus into her or his heart.

At His 2nd Advent, our long-prayed-for and triumphant Jesus will gather us and restore us. He will eliminate evil, sorrow, and all of our burdens. I believe He will explain for us the purpose of our trials and suffering on this earth. And He will raise us up to honor and fame!

Isn’t this the ultimate prayer of all of us? Come Lord Jesus, make all things new, including us. Heal us, restore us, help us to rest in Your love and Your peace.

B. The message of Isaiah 12:2-6 is very similar. In that day, the time of Jesus’ 2nd Advent, [we will] (vv.2-3)…trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. Our response to Jesus will be great joy! We will be so overflowing with gratitude, that we’ll be saying (as per Peterson’s Bible paraphrase, The Message, p.1228), verses 5-6🡪 Give thanks to God. Call out His name. Ask Him anything! Shout to the nations, tell them what He’s done, spread the news of His great reputation! Sing praise-songs to God. He’s done it all! Let the whole earth know what He’s done! Raise the roof! Sing your hearts out, O Zion! The greatest lives among you: The Holy One of Israel.

C. Paul’s message in Philippians 4:4-7 encourages us to act as if we believe in the prophesies of Zephaniah and of Isaiah. Since we trust that Jesus will grab us up in a joyous celebration at His 2nd Coming, we can (vv.4-5) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!…The Lord is near. As we await Him, we want to put away all of our anxiety, our worry. Stated another way, Paul appears to be saying, Worry about nothing, pray about everything! That’s worth saying again: Worry about nothing, pray about everything! If you are afraid your prayer request– including parking places near the door to a store when it rains–is too little a thing to bother God about, remember that to God, every concern we have is a little thing! (not in value, but compared to His power).

Daily, we can send all of our worries to the Cross of Christ. That’s where they belong. Jesus is the only One who can redeem and transform them for us. So we present our requests to God with prayer and thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, because we know He hears us. Thanksgiving, because we know His answer will be either “No,” “Slow,” “Grow,” or “Go!”

Then because we have off-loaded our concerns to Jesus, we feel His peace come over us. It’s …the peace that passes all understanding (v.7) because it’s not dependent upon our circumstances–whether external to us, like jobs, relationships, news events, etc.–or internal circumstances, like our feelings, attitudes, health, and so on. It is dependent only upon our relationship with Jesus Christ.

D. Our Gospel lesson today, Luke 3:7-18, lands us right in the middle of John the Baptist’s sermon. He’s not a cuddly character, is he? He shoots form the hip and tells it like it is: Repent! Turn from pride, arrogance, greed, extortion, dishonesty. Ask God’s forgiveness for your sins. Be baptized with water, as an outward and visible sign of an inward spiritual truth: that we have been cleansed from our sins and have made a decision to behave differently. John the Baptist also exhorted the crowds coming to him to treat others with generosity, love, and respect. He was not Jesus, but only the forerunner to Messiah. He baptized with water. But Jesus baptized us with the Holy Spirit in His 1st Advent, and will baptize us with the fire of judgment in His 2nd.

For centuries, God the Father had had His prophets announce that Jesus was coming. John the Baptist says, Well, He’s here! Get ready! Be prepared! And, while you are at it, be ready for the Return of the King!

We can rest assured that our Lord is returning to earth to restore us and our world. We can trust that our Lord hears and responds to our prayers.

Listen to this very earnest call to prayer by a famous American leader:

Knowing that intercessory prayer is our mightiest weapon and the supreme call for all Christians today, I pleadingly urge our people everywhere to pray. Believing that prayer is the greatest contribution that our people can make in this critical hour, I humbly urge that we take time to pray–to really pray. Let there be prayer at sunup, at noonday, at sundown, at midnight–all through the day. Let us all pray for our children, our youth, our aged, our pastors, our homes. Let us pray for our churches. Let us pray for ourselves, that we may not lose the word ‘concern’ out of our Christian vocabulary. Let us pray for our nation. Let us pray for those who have never known Jesus Christ and redeeming love, for moral forces everywhere, for our national leaders. Let prayer be our passion. Let prayer be our practice. (Robert E. Lee).,

As we pray, we want to do so with the confidence of a long-ago professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Harry Ironside. In its early days, the school needed $10,000 to remain open. During an emergency prayer meeting, Ironside prayed, “Lord, you own the cattle on a thousand hills. Please sell some of those cattle to help us meet this need.” Shortly after the prayer meeting, a check for $10,000 arrived at the school, sent days earlier by a friend who had no idea of the urgent need or of Ironside’s prayer. The man simply said the money came from the sale of some of his cattle!

I love stories like this! They deepen our faith and our trust in our Lord! We can be confident that, as believers in Jesus, we can await His 2nd Coming with re-joy-cing!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Certain Hope

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 28, 2021

Scriptures: Jer33:14-16; Ps 25:1-10; 1 Thess 3:9-13; Lk 21:25-36

As I was listening to our anthem being sung this morning, the Lord changed my sermon. YIKES! I really don’t like last minute alterations—I feel unprepared– but I have to be obedient as He knows best. He wanted me to change the first story. He wanted me to tell you about George Muller. George was a German missionary from about the time of Charles Dickens (early 1800’S). He thought he was meant to go evangelize Jews, but the Lord told him, “No, I want you to go to England.” George did as he was told and discovered the huge number of orphans on the streets of London. If you’ve read Oliver Twist or David Copperfield, you know that Dickens did a great job of bringing the plight of abandoned children into public consciousness. George and his wife founded 5 or 6 orphanages, paid for entirely by donations and as a result of his intense prayer-times. Over the span of his life, he improved the plight of thousands of British orphans by feeding and housing them, teaching them about Jesus, educating them, and training them for trades or for service jobs. He rarely told anyone what he was praying for, but he experienced God answering his prayers, time after time. In his brief autobiography, he tells of having no bread or milk for breakfast for 250 orphans. He prayed for God’s supply and soon heard that a bakery truck had stopped with day old bread to offer for free. Immediately after, a mild wagon came by with extra milk to give away. The orphans were fed for another dad

I tell this story because George Muller had hope in God’s supply that was certain. He would send up a prayer and wait to see what God would do.

Now, having to wait is tough for most of us–for both kids as well as grownups. We look for the shortest lines in the grocery store or at Walmart, so we don’t have to wait. This time of year, we often have to wait at the P.O, the gas station, or even for parking spaces at the mall. And, of course, we wait on the arrival of Christmas! Few of us appear to be as positive and upbeat about waiting as was George Muller.

Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent, a time of waiting on the arrival of Jesus. We prepare for His 1st Coming, at Christmas, as a helpless infant. He arrived in a small Hebrew backwater town, with a mission to save a sin-sick and lost world. We also await His 2nd Coming, when He will return to earth as a triumphant, all powerful king. His mission at that future time will be to judge the world and to create a heavenly, peaceful order. Our Scriptures today speak to both of Advents or Comings:

1. In Jeremiah 33:14-16, the prophet reminds us that the promised Messianic King (Jesus) will be coming. He will come from a righteous branch of King David’s family tree (a promise God made to David 1000 years earlier). This Messiah will save His people. Jumping ahead to the End Times, Jesus will be called “The Lord Our Righteousness.” At His Second Coming, Jerusalem will Live in safety. It doesn’t now, but it will then.

2. Our Psalm 25:1-10 is a plea from King David for God’s protection and love. In it David suggests that God has a purpose as He makes us wait: Waiting provides time/opportunity

a. To learn His ways more clearly (v.4) Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths.

c. To ask for His mercy, love, and forgiveness;

b. To trust in Him more deeply;

d. And to cling to hope due to His great faithfulness.

We can develop these skills by reading Scripture daily; by frequently praying to or talking with God; by remembering those times when God has shown up in our lives (These are usually pretty unique to each of us. I think it’s important to write them down on a 3×5 card and tape them to your bathroom mirror or to your car dashboard so you remember them—especially when you feel discouraged); and by hearing/reading the experiences others, like George Muller, have had with God. Remember our encounters with Christ, and those of others, helps to deepen and strengthen our faith, resulting in certain hope.

3. Our lesson from 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 teaches us two other benefits of waiting: God uses the time to strengthen a heart of holiness in each of us. Waiting has been called “the crucible of the saints.” As we wait, God is molding/shaping our characters. He is also teaching us to abound in love; that is, to love Him and to love others better.

4. In our Gospel lesson, Luke 21:25-36, Jesus gives us a few more clues as to what we can expect before His 2nd Coming: Just as buds on trees broadcast the coming of spring, we will know the end is near when, according to Peterson’s The Message It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers that be quaking. Heavenly bodies [stars, planets, our moon], will be shaken, doing never-before-seen things. Worldwide, people will fear the roaring and tossing of the sea. This may mean an increase in the frequency and severity of hurricanes, typhoons, and tsunamis. While God has promised never again to flood the whole earth, He still might allow frightening incursions of water into previously dry territory. I remember learning, when I lived in New Orleans, that the state of Louisiana tends to lose about 2.5 feet of beach to the Gulf of Mexico per year!

No matter what means He uses to signal the end, everyone—but especially non-believers–will be freaked. The Son of Man (Jesus’ favorite name for Himself) will come on a cloud. He will arrive with power and with great glory. Believers can and should rejoice!

We have every reason to Hope in Christ! Additionally, our hope can be certain, sure, accurate.

Our Lord Jesus taught in parables, stories, so let me share two stories of hope:

The first comes from the pen of Bernard Baruch (financial advisor to 2 wartime US presidents, Wilson and FDR) “A man sentenced to death obtained a reprieve by assuring the king he would teach his majesty’s horse to fly within the year–on the condition that if he didn’t succeed, he would be put to death at the end of the year. “Within a year,” the man explained later, “the king may die, or I may die, or the horse may die. Furthermore, in a year, who knows? Maybe the horse will learn to fly.” The story is funny, but the man did see 4 possible reasons for a reprieve from death. Despite how improbable each was, he had hopel

The second is from Bits and Pieces, 1991 The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work during stays in the city’s hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the [homebound] program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child’s name and room number and talked briefly with the child’s regular class teacher. “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now,” the regular teacher said, “and I’d be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn’t fall too far behind.”

The [homebound] teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, “I’ve been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs.” When she left she felt she hadn’t accomplished much.

But the next day, a nurse asked her, “What did you do to that boy?” The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. “No, no,” said the nurse. “You don’t know what I mean. We’ve been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s as though he’s decided to live.”

Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the [homebound] teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?” The boy interpreted the arrival of the homebound teacher as a reason to hope. As the old hymn states, Our hope is set on nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness!

We can, with confidence, hope in Jesus Christ because we know He came to rescue us from the penalty for our sins and to gain for us eternal life. Out of His great love for us, He left His heavenly prerogatives and became incarnate—took on flesh! So, this Advent Season, we celebrate His incarnation, His birthdate, at Christmas.

And because He accomplished these Biblical promises on His first trip here, fulfilling about 325 Old Testament prophesies, we can, with confidence, trust that He will come a second time, in glory, just as He predicted. In other words, if He fulfilled 325 prophesies about His earthly life on the first go-round, we can have certain hope that he will come again to fulfill the remaining 25 Old Testament prophesies. Amen and amen!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams