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

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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

There’s Something Bigger than Phil

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 14, 2021

Scriptures: 1 Sam 1:1-20; Ps 113; Heb 10:11-25; Mk 13:1-8

Some of us are old enough to remember the comedians, Rob Reiner and Mel Brooks. Some years back, they performed a comedy routine called “The 2,000 Year Old Man.” (Maybe you remember hearing/watching it?) Reiner takes the role of a TV news reporter and Brooks, the 2,000 YO man (As related by Revs. Fearless & Chilton, in their Lectionary Lab Commentary, Year B, p.361):

        Reporter:  Well, did you worship God in your village?

        Old Man: No, at first we worshipped this guy in our village                     named Phil.

        Reporter:  You worshipped a guy named Phil?  Why?  

Old Man: Well, he was bigger than us, and faster than us, and he was mean, and he could hurt you: break your arm or leg right in two; so we worshipped Phil.

        Reporter: I see. Did you have any prayers in this religion?

        Old Man: Yeah, want to hear one?  PLEASE PHIL, NO!                      PLEASE PHIL, NO!

        Reporter:  OK, so when did you stop worshipping Phil?

Old Man: Well, one day we were having a religious festival. Phil was chasing us and we were praying PLEASE PHIL, NO! PLEASE PHIL, NO! And suddenly a thunderstorm came up and a bolt of lightning struck and killed Phil. We gathered around and stared at Phil’s body awhile and then we realized: THERE’S SOMETHING BIGGER THAN PHIL!

    This story reminds me of an indigenous Indian missionary named Andrew Swamidoss.  He came to speak at my seminary and related how the people of India worship many gods.  He told us that a fellow had been run over by a bus at a particular street corner.  The next day, there was a shrine there to appease “the god of the bus-wreck.”  Imagine having to pray to thousands of gods who—like Phil—to keep them from harming us. Thank God there is someone bigger—and kinder—than Phil and the god of the bus wreck!

    Our God is bigger and more powerful—and more loving—and can and does see us though the many bad things that happen in our lives.  We can all probably think of many bad things that have happened to each of us during our lifetimes. We don’t want to ruminate over them because that can lead to depression and despair.  

    Our Scriptures this morning offer two categories of “bad things” for us to ponder.

    A. In 1 Samuel 1:1-20, the dilemma is childlessness or barrenness.  This would be a heart-break for any of us who wanted a child.

Think of the incredible stress and the multitude of disappointments and pain for couples undergoing in-vitro-and other fertilization treatments. Making love can be reduced to a baby-producing procedure; and the clinical interventions like calendar-and-temperature-watching, as well as giving the wife hormone injections begin to take a toll on a marriage. Consider childless couples anxiously awaiting adoptions. We probably all know of someone who cared for—even funded–a young woman throughout her pregnancy, only to have her decide at the birth to keep the baby. Or how about couples who spent thousands upon thousands trying to locate an adoptee in a foreign country.

Hannah knows she is barren, and—to make matters worse—she lives with her husband’s very fertile 2nd wife, Peninnah. We would probably characterize Peninnah as a “mean girl.” She knows Hannah is their husband’s favorite, but she can brag that she has more children. She can and does make Hannah feel less than. She can and does make Hannah feel miserable.

    But Hannah appears to know that our God is bigger and better than Phil, or any other gods.  She worships God in His Holy Temple and she cries out her despair and her heartbreak, asking God to give her a child.  Hannah, whose name means grace or favor, is such a great example to us.  She takes her misery to the Only One who can do something about it.  Notice how David takes all his fears and desires for revenge to God in some of the psalms he wrote.  You see, it’s OK to take our disappointments, anger, and despair to God.  It’s much less effective (and Christian) for us to share those with others. 

But Hannah appears to know from Ps 113 that God is our Creator and our Redeemer. Perhaps she held in her heart the knowledge that our God does not exalt the high and mighty—the bullies and braggarts, like Peninnah—but instead advances the cause of the humble and the lowly—people like herself, perhaps even people like us. Maybe she had memorized and camped on verse 9–He [God] settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. At any rate, she cried out to the Lord in prayer. He heard the desire of her heart. He heard her promise to raise her child to serve the Lord as a priest. And the Lord gifted her with a son, Samuel, soon intended by God be an important prophet.

The story of Hannah speaks to the personal, the micro-level , while our Gospel lesson, Mk 13:1-8, addresses the global or macro-level. Jesus prophesizes the demolition of the Temple (not accomplished until about 35 years after His ascension, in 70AD). A disciple has called His attention to what a magnificent building it is. The folks of that day probably believed the Temple would endure forever, but my son, the structural engineer, tells me that buildings have a life span. Buildings require maintenance, don’t they? Materials rot, decay, or become bug-ridden or brittle, and must be replaced. Even marble can be destroyed. Jesus’ response to the disciple’s comment seems to imply, Don’t put your faith in buildings, no matter how spectacular. .

    Later, Peter, James, John, and Andrew draw Him aside and ask     what other events foretell the end-times.  Jesus cites the appearance of false messiahs; political turmoil, wars and rumors of wars, nations turning against nations; and physical calamities like earthquakes and famines.  Then, sadly, (verse 9) He predicts that Christ-followers will be persecuted by religious and political leaders. 

This passage is a “heads up” warning for us: Trouble is coming—some may say trouble is already here. Many of us cannot bear to watch the evening news anymore. We are sick and tired of multiple examples of lying, greed, power-grabbing, sexual abuse, drug abuse, murders, etc. Interestingly, Stephen King, the current master of the horror genre in fiction books, has said, Horror has not fared particularly well on TV, if you except something like the six o’clock news….It is very difficult to write a successful horror story in a world which is so full of real horror.” And I think many of us are also fed up with leaders who cannot or who will not take action to turn things around.

    The Good News is that there is something bigger than Phil. There is something greater than the bad stuff that occurs in our lives or in our communities.  That something is a Some One, Jesus who loves us.  That something is our faith that His reign over tomorrow will overcome whatever is going on in our todays and has gone on in our yesterdays.  Our God is bigger than our pain.  Our God is bigger than our sorrow.  Our God is bigger than our suffering.  Our God is bigger than our disappointments, betrayals, or abandonments.  Our God is bigger than whatever frightens us or holds us captive.  Our God’s promises are true.  Our God’s love never fails us.

We recently (at our Saturday “soup and cinema event) showed a movie about a high school football coach whose teams won 151 games in a row. That’s a true story. There is also a winning high school basketball coach, named Morgan Wooten, whose teams won 1274 games, losing only192 times (15%) during his career. His little 1st grade grandson, however, was not impressed. He told his teacher his grandpa didn’t know anything about basketball. The teacher was shocked and told the kid lots of folks think his granddad is a basketball genius. “Oh no,” the child explained, “He doesn’t know anything about basketball. I go to all his games and he never gets to play!”

    Sometimes we tend to believe God is like that…always watching, never getting into the game.   But our lessons today assure us that God knows (and foreknows) whatever we are dealing with or will deal with, the micro and the macro concerns of life.  He’s neither asleep at the wheel nor far away.  Remember that Baptist pastor who said, There is no situation that I can get into that God cannot get me out of.  If we trust God, we will be all right.

We serve someone bigger than Phil, or Joe Biden, or our Bishop, Mayor, the Pope, or whomever. We serve a mighty God! We worship a powerful Jesus! We can trust Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit to manage whatever troubles us—if we call upon them. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Where are We Left?

Pastor Sherry’s message for 10/19/2021

Scriptures: Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Ps 104:1-9, 24, 35c; Heb 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

Hudson Taylor (1832-1903), the great British missionary to China, spent 51 years in ministry there. Raised a Methodist, he went to China as a Baptist, founded the China Inland Mission—which targeted the interior of the country–brought 800 missionaries over the years to join him; founded 125 schools in 18 provinces, and led over 18,000 souls to Christ.

The story is told of his first voyage to China, aboard a sailing vessel. As it neared the channel between the southern Malay Peninsula and the island of Sumatra, the missionary heard an urgent knock on his stateroom door. He opened it, and there stood the captain of the ship. “Mr. Taylor,” he said, “we have no wind. We are drifting toward an island where the people are heathen, and I fear they are cannibals.”

What can I do?” asked Taylor.

“I understand that you believe in God. I want you to pray for wind.”

All right, Captain, I will, but you must set the sail.” “Why that’s ridiculous! There’s not even the slightest breeze. Besides, the sailors will think I’m crazy.” But finally, because of Taylor’s insistence, he agreed. Forty- five minutes later he returned and found the missionary still on his knees. “You can stop praying now,” said the captain. “We’ve got more wind than we know what to do with!”

Obviously, Taylor was a man of prayer. Additionally, he believed in God’s call on his life. He believed in God’s power to equip and provide for him. He also believed he would successfully make it to China and that God would do a mighty work among the Chinese through him. Similarly, I had felt convinced of God’s call on my life. Once, when I was in seminary, my school sent me to a conference in Jackson, Mississippi. On my return to Pittsburgh from Jackson, our plane hit some very bumpy weather. The woman in the seat next to me was a seasoned traveler. She flew frequently for work. But during this trip, she took out the “barf bag,” convinced she would lose her lunch before we crashed. I told her not to worry. I had prayed that angels would hold up our wings, the nose, and the tail of the plane and was convinced the Lord would save us because I was halfway through seminary and knew that God was not yet finished with me.

Taylor read the same Bible we do (probably the King James version.) Our passages today are all about faith. They appear to answer the question, “Where are we left?” Or, you may prefer, “Where does that leave us?” Or, as cynics might say, “What’s the point?”

I believe that question is best answered if we take our passages in order. Please pay attention to what our Lord is saying to us (The Bible is His love song to us).

A. In Job 38:1-7, 34-41, we find God revealing Himself to Job from the midst of a whirlwind, an impressive phenomenon of nature. Job has wanted an opportunity to put his case before the Lord. In our passage today, God shows up as Creator of the Universe. He begins by telling Job, in verse 2, that his complaints are unjustified because he argues from a place of limited understanding. Notice, the Lord does not explain why Job had to suffer, nor does he defend His divine right to let him. Instead, from verses 3-41, God asks Job a series of rhetorical questions about creation, all of which point to God’s power, sovereignty, and loving care. Essentially, God is saying to Job, “Who are you–My creation–to question, to critique Me–your Creator?” In a subsequent chapter, Job will admit that God is Sovereign over all things, including himself, and will humbly retreat from being angry with or making demands of God.

So, reading and understanding this passage, Where are we left? Like Job, we should stand in awe of God and His creative power. Like Job, we should trust in God because He is our creator and the lover of our souls.

Paul starts from the same place in Romans 1. Paul says God’s creation so demonstrates His greatness that unbelievers have no excuse to be atheists. Evidence of His goodness and His power surround us in nature. True, we are free to reject Him, but YIKES! He will allow us to do so, but we act to our detriment as He removes His “umbrella of protection” from us. Like Job, we want to trust in God’s goodness and love for us, despite our questions.

Remember the example of Hudson Taylor: When faced with cannibals, he didn’t get frustrated with God; instead, he trusted in God to see him through safely.

B. Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c continues the theme. Biblical scholars call this psalm a hymn of praise to the God of Creation. In fact, it appears to address the same questions God raised with Job. In Job 38:4, God asks Job, Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell Me, if you understand. Psalm104:5 says—He [God] set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. In Job 38:8, God asks Job, Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb?

The answer appears in Psalm 104:6-9–You [The Lord] covered it [the earth] with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. But at Your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.

Where are we left? Like Job, we should praise God for His power, His greatness, and His wisdom. Even when we don’t understand why things are going the way they are in our lives, we should praise God for His creation.

C. The writer to the Hebrews, in Hebrews 5:1-10, defines the function or purpose of a priest. Pastors are still referred to as priests in the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Episcopal traditions. In the Protestant Reformation, however, priests were renamed as “pastors,” “ministers,” or “reverends.” No matter what you call him or her, however, the duties of a pastor include: (1) Being a person of prayer; (2) Having been called by God (acceptable to God); (3) To represent the people to God; and (4) To explain God’s Word to people.

The writer to the Hebrews wants folks to understand that Jesus currently fulfills the role of our Great High Priest. He sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us. Some would say He fulfilled the role of Prophet as he taught and healed during His earthly ministry. He spoke the words His Father gave Him to speak. He communicated the Father’s love, will, and healing power to us. They also contend we will see Him as King when He comes again, in glory, to assume His rightful authority over all the earth. So we see His 3 roles as prophet, priest, and king.

Jesus did all the things an earthly priest would do: He was a man of prayer. He was called and ordained to ministry (at His baptism, the Father said, This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased). He provided the sacrifice for our sins—the once and for all perfect sacrifice—not of animals but of Himself. He was totally submitted to the will of His Father, even unto death.

So, where are we left? Saved and secure! Saved and secure! Jesus paid our sin debt. Jesus’ sacrifice earned our salvation, our freedom.

Again, we should be grateful!

D. Jesus teaches the disciples, once again—in Mark 10:35-45–that ministry in His Kingdom is not about position and power, but about servanthood and humility. John and James are jockeying for favored positions in Jesus’ new administration. Jesus responds to them in two ways:

First, He asks in verse 38–Can you drink the cup I drink? This is an old Jewish expression which means, Can you share my fate? They appear to believe they can. Next, He tells them they will suffer and die, as He is going to, but that He does not have the authority to grant them positions of privilege—that prerogative is the Father’s. .

The angry response of the other 10 to John and James power ploy prompts Jesus’ teaching in verses 42-45–You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. What pleases God in His Kingdom is our each having a servant’s heart. Demonstrating humble and loving service to God and others is how we advance in the Lord’s eyes.

So, where are we left? Serving God and others, humbly rather than looking for recognition, bonuses, or rewards.

Where are we left? We want to trust in God, in spite of our circumstances. The God of Creation–the God who created us–deserves our adoration and praise. The author of our salvation, Jesus, deserves our gratitude and love. The Father is worthy. Jesus is worthy. The Holy Spirit is worthy.

Additionally, in God’s Kingdom, He responds favorably to prayer and humble service. He restored a humble and worshipful Job. He raised an obedient Son from the dead. He listened to and responded to the prayers of a humble missionary, Hudson Taylor.

As I see it, the following story seems to indicate where God might have us end up:

Some years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants–all physically or mentally disabled–assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, that is, except one little boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry.

The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked back. Then they all turned around and went back… every one of them! One girl with Down’s Syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, “This will make it better.” Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes.

Stories like this warm our hearts, and may even make us cry. Those children showed all the adults watching how we are to love and to live—not left crying on the track, but uplifted, helped, and loved by our friends. We can be this loving and caring. Let’s practice having servants’ hearts this week. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

PASSING MARKS

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 10, 2021

Scriptures: Job 23:1-17; Ps 22:1-15; Heb 4:12-18; Mk 10:17-31

The story is told of an Ohio State University student who was academically competent but tended to need time to complete assignments (smart but not speedy).  You may know the type.  They do know the material, but think things through carefully until they have the right answer.  Others may come to the answer more rapidly but few are as careful as this.

The student was troubled by a Calculus class he needed to pass—and wasn’t—with a demanding, annoying professor.  The guy seemed to delight in frustrating his already discouraged students.  During exams, he would walk around, watching them like a hawk, expecting to discover someone cheating.  He would frequently announce the amount of time left—30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.- just to interrupt their trains of thought and to agitate everyone.  In a class of 1,000 students, the slow-but-steady young man was the only one not to turn in his exam when time was called.

The prof waited impatiently and then, an hour later, when the young man finally finished his test, the prof asked him what he thought he was doing.  The kid answered, “Turning in my exam.”  The prof replied, “Your exam is an hour late. Congratulations!  You’ve failed it.  So, I will see you next term when you repeat my class.”  The student smiled and asked, “Do you know my name?”  The prof replied gruffly and incredulously, “What?” The student rephrased his question, “Do you know what my name is?” With irritation, the prof replied, “There are 1,000 students in this class.  What makes you think I would know your name?”  The student then smiled, and, lifting up a tall stack of test booklets, placed his completed test in the middle of the pile and casually exited the huge lecture hall.

Life sometimes presents us with tests–and authority figures– like that one.  We may think our prospects are slim and we don’t have much of a chance of succeeding. But the truth is that if we have a relationship with the Lord, we can make it through any trial that might come.  Let’s see what our passages today have to add to this issue:

A.  Our OT lesson comes from Job 23:1-17.  You may recall that the Lord is so confident of Job’s righteousness that He allows Satan to strip him of his family, his wealth, and his health.  Satan is sure Job will turn against God if his blessings are all removed.  But Job is such a faithful believer that he does not, even though his wife advises (Job 2:9), Curse God and die (Great advice, right? Horrible!).

Instead, Job spends much of the book trying to figure out how he has offended God.  He believes he is being punished, but stops short of blaming God (This is such a good lesson for us!).  In today’s chapter, he begins to believe his faith is being put to the test.  So he wants an opportunity to speak to God face to face.  In verse 3 he admits he doesn’t know where to find Him; in verses 4-7, he is sure that if he could locate God, and confront Him, God wouldn’t find any problems with him.

YIKES!  Don’t you just want to tell Job 3 things:

    #1, None of us is without sin—as Paul says, except for Jesus, No, not one!  As J. Vernon McGee says, No one can go into the presence of God to defend himself.  We must all go before God to plead guilty before him.  Every one of us is guilty (commentary on Job, p.125).  We are only made righteous—we only have passing marks– because we have been cleansed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

    #2, So, if we think we can defend ourselves before God, we need to remember to approach Him with humility.  He is God; we are not! 

    #3, Finally, anyone who seriously wants to find God will do so.  Our God is not hiding from us.  In fact, He calls us to Himself.  If we really want to meet up with Him, He will make Himself known to us—through Scripture, dreams, billboards, overheard conversations, song lyrics, and life events (to name a few means at His disposal).  And unlike the calculus professor at Ohio State, God is for us, not against us.

But praise God!  By the time Job arrives at verse 10, he realizes he is being tested for some purpose.  Like us, he doesn’t yet know what the purpose is.  Like us, he doesn’t understand why he needs testing.  But—hopefully also like us—he does believe that God is using this testing to somehow bring about His good purposes in Job’s life.  If we let it, trouble strengthens our faith.  If we let it, trouble improves our moral character.

If we let Him, God will comfort us and equip us as we move through our difficulties.  Some unnamed wise person once said, You know that God has never promised that we would miss the storm, but He has promised that we would make the harbor.

B.  Psalm 22 is known as “the Psalm of the Cross.”  Written by King David (around 1,000BC) before the Romans invented crucifixion, it provides us a clear window into Jesus’ thoughts as He hung on the Cross.  Some scholars believe Jesus recited this psalm from memory while nailed to the Cross.  In verses 1-2, Jesus essentially cries out to His Father, My God, where are you?  He is feeling deserted and abandoned.  In verses 3-5, He reminds Himself that His Father is the Holy One in whom the patriarchs of Israel put their trust…they trusted and You delivered them…in You they trusted and were not disappointed.

Unlike Job or us, Jesus was entirely without sin.  He had personally done nothing to merit death.  In verses 6-8, He states that He knows He has not provoked the attacks of vicious and vindictive men; and that, thus far, God has not delivered Him from their cruelty.  He reminds His Father that He has trusted in Him from birth.  Finally, verses 12-15 describe His deep physical and emotional distress.  Here is indeed a portrait of unjust suffering.  By the end of the psalm, however–as by the end of the book of Job–we find that the truly righteous, despite their suffering, still maintain their faith in the Lord.

C. Our Gospel lesson (Mark 10:17-31) relates Jesus’ encounter with a rich young man.  The fellow mistakenly believes in his own righteousness.  He says he has kept the last 6 commandments all of his life, the ones that have to do with how we relate to others.  We are told that Jesus loved him, even though He realized the man has probably not kept the first 4.  How did Jesus know?  He recognized the man’s wealth was an impediment to his relationship with God.  Jesus asks him to give it up.  The young man walks away from Christ because he cannot (his wealth was his idol); and both he and Jesus are saddened by his decision.

The message is to give up whatever keeps us from remaining close to Jesus.  At one time with me, it was my children.  I didn’t trust God to care for them.  I had to give that up and then noted how much better they did than when I tried to control them.  Later, I learned that God was not selling my house because I was not willing to pastor a church.  I thought I had been called to ordained ministry, as a psychologist, to do therapy with the clergy.  But the Lord made it clear I had to give that goal up too.  The day that I agreed to do whatever God asked of me, my house sold.  My realtor brought a couple by to see it at 5:00pm and I had a signed contract by 8:00pm.  Jesus promises us we will receive blessings 100 times greater than whatever we have to give up for His sake.  He promises us eternal life, despite any and all persecution.

D.  The writer to the Hebrews (4:12-18) wants us never to forget that God’s Word activates us/energizes us to hold firm to our faith.  Scripture is more than words on a page.  It comes with power to help us achieve what God has for us.  Secondly, it exposes us to God’s sight.  If we compare ourselves to the biblical standard, we see where we fall short.  We can’t really get away with slipping our exam booklet into the middle of the pile.  God knows all about us.  Thirdly, Jesus’ example, and His once and for all perfect sacrifice for our sins, allows us now to approach God’s throne of grace not with fear of condemnation, but with confidence in God’s loving grace and mercy.

None of us wants to suffer, do we? Nevertheless, we have to realize that following Christ does not give us a pass to avoid problems.

Rather it is a guarantee—as we see in the outcomes of Jesus and of Job—of blessings and God’s favor following our faithfulness through trials.  Because of God’s grace and mercy, we are all like calculus students who have gotten away with not finishing on time by putting our test booklets in the middle of the pile.  Chuck Swindoll has written (in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, p.35), “Every problem is an opportunity to prove God’s power.  Every day we encounter countless golden opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insurmountable problems.”

Let us pray:  Lord, we know we make better than passing marks when we remember that You do not promise to save us from trials, but You do promise to be present with us as we endure them.  We ask Jesus to tattoo on our hearts the reminder that He suffered untold agonies to atone, in advance, for our sins.  Help us to recognize that there is nothing we can do to achieve or earn our salvation.  Our money will not get us to Heaven, just as our good behavior or our generosity toward others will not.  It is only by loving You and Jesus, and accepting our grace-filled redemption at Your hands, that we are saved.  Assist us to let go of all and any impediments or roadblocks to having a satisfying, deeply faithful, intimate relationship with You.  Amen! 

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams