Cooking the Books

Pastor Sherry’s message for 9/18/2022

Scriptures: Jer 8:18-9:1; Ps 79:1-9; 1 Tim 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

Remember “Cliff Notes”? Back in the day before computers and the internet, if you were assigned a novel you dreaded to read—like Silas Marner or Moby Dick, you could get one of these little black and yellow booklets and learn what you needed to from them. No telling how many people have successfully made it through high school or college English classes by consulting Cliff Notes. They would reveal to you the themes and subthemes, what the major characters represented (if they were symbolic), the setting, the tone and the genre of the book, etc.–enough so that you could pass a test on the required reading without really reading it. I guess the internet has put Cliff Notes out of business.

Nevertheless, today—since I want to focus on the Gospel lesson–I am going to begin by giving you the Cliff Notes version of our other three readings. They are too valuable to skip over.


A. In Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, the prophet is actually weeping over what the Lord has told him will be the capture and deportation of Judah. The prophet knows his apostate countrymen and women will wonder why Jerusalem is sacked and the Temple destroyed. They believed God would never allow this to happen, no matter their behavior. They missed that our God does not revere buildings. He loves the people who worship Him inside the buildings. So, because they no longer believe in God, they will not understand they are being punished for their idolatry and faithlessness.

Both due to their spiritual adultery—despite all his warnings to the contrary–and due to his identification with their distress, Jeremiah grieves over them.

B. Asaph, the author of Psalm 79, is aware that God has used the Babylonians to punish His wayward Judean Chosen People. He begs God to forgive and restore the nation. He also asks God to bring judgment against Babylon, a pagan nation (v.6) …pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you. How ironic that God often uses non-believing nations to discipline His chosen (Pagan Assyrians carted off the Northern Kingdom in 722BC, for example.) Finally, in verse 9, he begs God to …help us Oh God our Savior, for the glory of Your name.

C. Paul advises Timothy (and us) to pray for national leaders, whether we like them or not. YIKES! We have been praying weekly that corrupt and dishonest leaders be replaced by ethical, God-loving ones; but I confess I have been remiss in praying for the folks in that first category. OOPS! Paul says we are to do so in order that the Gospel continues to spread into the world; and because God does not wish for anyone to perish. Remember John 3:16 for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in His shall not perish but have eternal life. God loves everyone, unconditionally. But the gift of eternal life is conditioned on believing in Jesus.

Much more could be made about all three of these passages, but I have given you the gist, the Cliff Notes version.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the Gospel lesson assigned for today, Luke 16:1-13, the Parable of the Crooked Steward. It directly follows the parable of the Prodigal Son. Remember how the younger son asked for his inheritance early and squandered it all? Well, this crooked steward—we would probably call him a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) today—has mismanaged his boss’ accounts, and misappropriated his boss’ profits.

We’ve heard of this happening all too often, haven’t we (the Enron scandal and the housing debacle of 2008, etc.)?

The story is told of a man who was interviewing candidates for an accounting job… When the first man came in, the interviewer asked, “OK, what’s two plus two?” The candidate replied, “Four,” and the interview was over. Same thing happened with the next man. But the third candidate, when asked the same question, stood up and locked the door. He closed the blinds, then leaned over the desk and asked, “How much do you want it to be?”

(Borrowed from a sermon by Rev. Timothy Archer, “Bad Books, Good Lessons,” Feb. 15, 2004).

I worked on my doctorate at Florida State University from 1986-1989. In my final year, I saw student clients at the university’s counseling students. Among them were several accounting majors from the College of Business—one of the most difficult majors at FSU at that time. Now this was in the days prior to internet searches, and students were often required to search out and read important research articles in professional journals. I asked one of the librarians then how many journals the library subscribed to and was told 40,000. These monthly or quarterly scholarly works were bound into volumes by year and you had to physically go to the stacks and search them out. Because accounting was such a competitive major, some students–to thwart their student rivals–would use razor blades to remove the relevant articles from the library’s reserved sources. I remember thinking at the time that (a) I would not want one of the guilty parties to be my accountant; and (b) why we would wonder that some professionals have no integrity.

But back to our parable: The boss gets wind of the fact that the CFO has “cooked the books” and cans him. Interestingly, he isn’t immediately escorted out of his office, with his parking pass confiscated and his computer codes changed. Instead, the boss tells him to prepare for a financial audit. The crook knows his fraudulent practices will soon be uncovered.

So, what’s the Crooked CFO to do? He shrewdly decides he needs to convince those who owe the boss money that he is on their side. They may not even be aware he is crook. Nevertheless, he offers to discount what they owe the company. Perhaps he had inflated what they owed to begin with (pocketing the difference), but he now reduces one guy’s bill by 50%, and another’s by 20%. Every bit helps, right? Wouldn’t we all love to have someone cut our grocery bill by 50% or our gas bill by 20%? He seems to think these fellows will remember him kindly once the boss has sacked him. They might hire him—not as an accountant it is to be hoped–so that he doesn’t have to dig ditches or wave traffic around road construction sites.

Now Jesus surprisingly commends the dude! Don’t you want to say to Jesus, “But Lord, he’s a crook!” However, Jesus isn’t commending him for being dishonest. This is a parable of contrast, like the how much more stories Jesus tells:

1.) If the unjust judge will give a powerless widow woman justice, how much more will the Lord do?

2.) If a son asks for an egg, will his earthly father give him a scorpion? How much more then will his heavenly father provide?

3.) If the grouchy neighbor will give his friend bread at midnight, how much more generously will our heavenly father respond?

4.) If the earthly father celebrates his prodigal son’s return, how much will our heavenly father celebrate our return to Him?

Jesus commends the guy—not for being a shyster but for investing in relationships (with those who owe the boss) instead of monetary greed. We don’t know if he truly underwent a lasting attitude adjustment. But consider what William Barclay has to say about him in his commentary:

“If only the Christian was as eager and ingenious in his attempt to attain goodness as the man of the world is in his attempt to attain money and comfort, he would be a much better man.”

(William Barclay. The Gospel of Luke. The Daily Bible Study Series, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975, p. 208.)

Our God wants us to passionately pursue doing the right thing toward others. Jesus also commends the guy for trusting in the merciful nature of his boss. Remember, the Prodigal Son’s trust in his father’s grace and mercy compelled him to return home. Jesus is following up that parable by demonstrating that we can trust in our God’s compassion for us.

Martin Luther once wrote, That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself, I say, is really your God. Others have suggested we need only review our bank account expenditures to see what we value most. We need to be mindful of loving God above all things, even money! Like this shyster steward–once he knew he was in trouble–we need to invest more in relationships with others than in lining our own pockets, cooking someone’s books, or taking care of ourselves first, and maybe only.

Jesus goes on to say that we cannot serve God and money! He never said no one could become wealthy. You can clearly be a Christian and make money. I once sat on a plane next to a guy from a well-known, Christian financial ministry. He told me that making money is a gift from God. It is a gift that most people lack. He has had rich men approach him, desiring to leave off making money to become a member of his ministry. He said he tells them to keep on making money, since it is such a rare gift, but plough the excess into ministries for others. Do you remember Rick Warren’s books, The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church (2002)? Pastor Warren made millions on these two books. He asked God what to do with the proceeds. He did not trade in his old car for a Mercedes or a Lexus; he did not buy a new, bigger house; instead, he told his church to no longer pay him a salary, kept a small portion for his family’s needs, and put the rest into 5 ministries: One for breast cancer research (his wife had breast cancer); one for aids research; and 3 others dedicated to raising up Christian leaders in Africa. So you see, you can make money but you cannot let a love for money take the place of God in your life.

Additionally Jesus implied that if we are faithful stewards of what He gives us, He will give us more. It’s a paradox, isn’t it? If we don’t think God is very generous towards us, we may want to consider how generous we are toward Him and towards others. If we want God to be generous toward us, we must be generous toward others as well. Amen!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Packing Light, Packing Right

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 26, 2022

Scriptures: 2 Kgs 2:1-18; Ps 77:1-2, 11-20; Gal 5:1. 13-25; Lk 9:51-62

I would have liked to preach the passage about Elijah and Elisha, or the one from Galatians, but the Lord told me to preach the Gospel lesson today. I wrote my sermon, then looked back over my sermons for the past 6 years, and realized that I had preached this Gospel lesson (Luke 9:51-62) twice already, in 2016 and 2019. The Lord must believe we need to hear this lesson yet again.

The story is told of a dairy farmer who decided he needed a new pick-up truck: “He had seen an ad in the paper about discounts and factory rebates, so he decided to trade in his old clunker. [My farmer son-in-law just replaced his pick-up truck; it had 470,000 miles on it!] He chose a new model and was ready to write the check for the full amount. The salesman said, “Wait, I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” The farmer said, “Isn’t it the price I saw in the papers? The salesman said, “No, that’s for the basic model, all the options cost extra.” So after the options were added, the farmer reluctantly wrote a check and drove off in his new pick-up.

A few months later the car salesman called the farmer because he wanted to buy a cow for his son’s 4-H [or FFA] project. The farmer assured the car salesman he had several good milk cows for sale for $500. The salesman drove out and selected a cow and took out his checkbook. The farmer said, “Wait. I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” Then he handed the salesman a bill that read:

BASIC COW $500

Two-tone exterior $45, Extra stomach $75, Milk storage compartment $60, Straw recycle compartment $120, Four handy spigots @ $10 each $40, Leather upholstery $125, Dual horns $45, Automatic rear fly swatter $38, Natural fertilizer attachment $185.

GRAND TOTAL $1233.

Whether you’re buying cars or cows, it’s important to get to what we call “the bottom line.” What is the “bottom line” of following Jesus? You may go into sticker shock when you discover it. Many people are only interested in the basic model of Christian living. They want just enough Christianity to keep them out of hell without intruding on their fun. You don’t find the full cost of discipleship advertised very often these days. Few preachers discuss it because it is unpleasant; it doesn’t fill churches. It isn’t the prosperity gospel that says, “Believe and you will be rich and happy.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship [and he should know as he died for his faith], “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to die.” (borrowed from a sermon by David Dykes, Don’t Waste Your Life, 8/31/2011.)

Pretty sobering, isn’t it?

Now consider, if you felt called to follow Jesus (and I hope each of you does), how would you pack? You might take a change or two of clothing; your Bible; your toothbrush, comb, and some toiletries; and your prescription meds and any supplements you use. But Jesus doesn’t concern Himself with any of these practical items. Instead He tells you to count the cost, to be sure you are prepared to do what it takes to be His follower. He is more concerned with your priorities than your creature comforts. He is most concerned with your heart-attitudes.

Essentially the message of our Gospel lesson today is to “Pack Light and Pack Right” (Luke 9:51-62). Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and to His crucifixion. He knows His time left to disciple/train His followers is brief. So He takes the shortcut, from His 3rd tour of Galilee in the North to Jerusalem in the South–which involves walking through Samaria. He has sent messengers ahead to a village to prepare for His arrival. He now travels with a retinue including the 12 disciples and a number of women who help pay their expenses from their own wealth. Unfortunately, the messengers discover the Samaritans there don’t want Him to sojourn in their village. YIKES! They reject Christ!

John and James are so outraged that they ask Him to call down the wrath of God on that community. They must have forgotten His admonition to them at the beginning of Chapter 9, when He had sent out the 12, two-by-two to practice on their own what He had taught and demonstrated for them: (1) They were to pack light, depending on God for their provision; (2) They were to preach, heal the sick, and cast out demons in Jesus’ name; (3) And they were to shake the dust off their feet and leave behind any who rebuffed them. There was to be no punishing of those who rejected them or Jesus.

In a sense, rejecting Jesus embodies its own punishment: eternal damnation. Remember, the pig farmers from last week’s Gospel (Luke 8:26-39), preferred saving their livelihoods to saving their souls. Jesus didn’t even rebuke them. He just got back in the boat and returned to Galilee. Jesus’ way is not to take revenge, not to try to ruin those who disagree with Him—so counter to our cancel culture of today. Instead, Jesus modeled for us to be patient, and to pray for and offer grace and forgiveness to those who reject Christ, or who mock or spurn us because we follow Him.

In His subsequent encounters with 3 would-be disciples, Jesus teaches that following Him takes commitment. The 1st man says confidently (v.57) that he will follow Jesus anywhere. Perhaps he has in mind the idea of following a traditional rabbi. Students walked beside or behind him and absorbed his teaching. Later they would convey it to others, saying: Rabbi Hillel said this…Rabbi Gamaliel said that. Have you ever noticed that Jesus never referenced another rabbi, saying instead, you have heard it said ________, but I say ________. There was no more important authority than Jesus, the Father or the Spirit.

But the apostles could have told the man that following Jesus was more like following a prophet. It included a kind of peripatetic “home-schooling.” They learned from Him while they walked with Him, listening to His wisdom and witnessing His miracles. Additionally, a prophet lived off of donations from those who responded to his ministry. So Jesus tells the guy, I’m homeless. Can you commit to being homeless too? I’m rejected. Can you live with being rejected too? Interestingly, Scripture doesn’t tell us the guy’s answer.

Jesus Himself recruited the 2nd fellow (v.59), and the man seemed to have a legitimate reason for hesitating—First let me go and bury my father. Jesus’ reply seems severe: Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Biblical scholars believe the guy’s father may have been alive still and thriving (Jesus would know that). He was asking to delay until a later time, like…wait until my kids finish high school; until my daughter gets married (and I have paid off the wedding); until my health improves; or until I win the lottery. Jesus was nearly out of time, so this excuse didn’t wash with Him. Nothing, not even family obligations, should come before what we owe God. Whenever there is a choice, God comes 1st.

The 3rd man volunteers to follow Jesus, but wants a brief delay to bid farewell to his family. Again Jesus offers him what seems to our ears a harsh admonition (v.62) No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. (If someone pushing a hand-plow looks back, they are sure to plow a crooked row.). Jesus’ exacting sounding response means that the man cannot hang onto his old life and also adopt the new. Being Jesus’ disciple means not looking back but looking forward to what might be a rough road ahead.

Recently I read a true story about a preacher who was standing at the door shaking hands as the congregation departed. He grabbed one man by the hand and pulled him aside. The preacher said to him, “You need to join the Army of the Lord!” The man replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Preacher.” The preacher questioned, “How come I don’t see you except for Christmas and Easter?” He whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”

Given what Jesus says in today’s Gospel, how many of you think our Lord would be pleased by what the guy in this story said? Jesus may have been amused, but I think He would then have taken the guy to task. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us (10:25)–>Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another….We encourage each other when we worship together. We have also seen that there is power in corporate worship and power in corporate prayer. Furthermore, once you get into the habit of attending church, you feel like your whole day is amiss if you skip it. Times I have almost not come to church (before being ordained), I would discover something was preached or a Scripture was read that I was exactly meant to hear. If I had not attended that day, I would have missed out on something the Lord meant for me to learn!

When we follow Jesus, we sign on to more than the “basic model” of Christianity, which is…we love Him; we obey Him; and we love others. But we also pack Light—only the essentials—and we pack Right. We choose Jesus above all relationships and all things. He comes 1st. We follow Him, even if it means we suffer rejection and perhaps persecution (On Pentecost, 50 Nigerian Christians were killed while worshipping in their church—most likely by Nigerian Moslems. I know an Anglican Bishop there, Ben Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria. He has for years slept on a concrete floor instead of a comfortable bed, anticipating the day his Moslem neighbors arrest and imprison him. We don’t experience that kind of persecution—yet. But you may have noticed increasingly negative remarks about Christians in the media, and you may have experienced being mocked for your faith.

A number of you have heard me say that I had a vision of Jesus right before I was ordained. He wore the crown of thorns and a white robe, and smiled at me. I believed then and still do that His smile meant He approved of my entering the ministry. He didn’t say a word, but He reached behind Himself and pulled out a crown of thorns for me too. Later, I realized He was warning me that the cost of discipleship is high. I thought to myself at the time, At least it wasn’t a cross! But recently a pastor friend told me one of our seminary professors said in class, If you want to be ordained, you should ask yourself, “How do I look on wood?” Ordained or not, following Jesus is not a walk in the park. it is a death to self. However, embracing Jesus and dying to self is the only route to God’s heart.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Grown-ups or Parents?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

Repent or Perish!

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 20, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Ash Wednesday Message: God’s Forgiveness

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 2, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b.) Confess their sins; and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Trouble With Forgiveness

Pastor Sherry’s message for 2/20/22

Scriptures: Gen 45:3-15; Ps 37:1-11, 39-40; Lk 6:27-38

Corrie ten Boom was a Holocaust survivor, a Christian, and a member of the Dutch underground resistance during WWII. Scott Sauls (in his book, A Gentle Answer, Thomas Nelson, 2020, pp.19-20) tells the following story to demonstrate the trouble with forgiveness:

“After the defeat of Hitler’s Nazi regime in World War II, Corrie returned to Germany to declare the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. One evening, after giving her message, she was approached by a man who identified himself as a former Nazi guard from the concentration camp at Ravensbruck, where she had been held and where her sister, Betsie, had died.

“When Corrie saw the man’s face, she recognized him as one of the most cruel and vindictive guards from the camp. He reached out his hand and said to her, “A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea! You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk. I was a guard there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?” About this encounter, Corrie writes:

‘I stood there—I whose sins had again and again been forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place. Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I ever had to do . . . I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. . . . But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently.’

“As she reached out her hand to the former guard, Corrie says that something incredible took place. She continues: ‘The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’ . . . I had never known love so intensely, as I did then. But even then, I realized it was not my love . . . It was the power of the Holy Spirit.’”

The trouble with forgiveness is that it is easy to talk about but difficult to do. It feels at the time like the emotional equivalent of having your toe-mails curled backwards.

Remember the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons by Bill Watterson? In one of them, Calvin—about 6YO–is sharing his guilt with his tiger friend, Hobbes. He admits he feels bad for calling someone named Susie names and for hurting her feelings. He says he is sorry. (Good for him!) Hobbes, a wise toy tiger, suggests Calvin apologize to Susie. After thinking it through for a moment, Calvin replies, “I keep hoping there’s a less obvious solution.” Isn’t that just the truth for most of us? We know that apologizing or asking for forgiveness is going to require that we humble ourselves and admit our fault. We also suspect that this action will be emotionally painful for us.

Jesus gives us His take on forgiveness in this famous portion of the Gospel of Luke (6:27-38). It is a continuation of the Sermon on the Plain. Jesus directs us to (v.27)love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. YIKES! This is such a tall order! Foundational to the ability to do as He directs is a willingness to forgive. Corrie ten Boom found it very difficult to extend a hand of forgiveness to the former Ravensbruck guard.

She knew she had just talked about it publically, and hated to be seen as a hypocrite—if she could not. And she wisely asked Jesus to help her. Such forgiveness is beyond our human abilities. It requires the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Additionally, in verse 29, Jesus commands us to famously “turn the other cheek.” Rev. Dr. J. Vernon McGee tells the story of an Irish prize fighter who was converted and became an itinerent pastor. “He happened to be in a new town setting up his evangelistic tent when a couple of tough thugs noticed what he was doing. Knowing nothing of his background, they made a few insulting remarks. The Irishman merely turned and looked at them. Pressing his luck, one of the bullies took a swing and struck a glancing blow on one side of the ex-boxer’s face. The former boxer shook it off and said nothing as he stuck out his jaw. The bully took another glancing blow on the other side. At that point the preacher swiftly took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and announced, “The Lord gave me no further instructions,” Whop! ( As related by J. Vernon McGee in Charles Swindoll’s Tale of a Tardy Oxcart, 1998, p 214.)

Clearly this is a joke as Jesus told Peter the trouble with forgiveness is that we are to forgive the same person not 7 but 77 times (Matthew 18:22). Jesus sums it up by charging us to (v.31)Do to others as you would have them do to you. We are not to seek revenge or repay evil with evil. Instead, we are called to treat everyone– even enemies– with love and mercy.

Furthermore, He exhorts us (vv.37-38)Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For, with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

The story is told of the famous artist, Leonardo Da Vinci. He was painting “The Last Supper,” (in oils on a plaster wall in a convent in Milan, Italy) and had fashioned the face of Judas at the table to resemble one of his greatest detractors. Then, when he approached painting the face of Christ, he found he could not get it right. He tried and tried unsuccessfully, until he repented of how he had depicted the Judas figure. As soon as he painted over his enemy’s likeness with one more anonymous, he found he could then depict Jesus’ face.

Notice how God withheld blessing Da Vinci’s great work until the artist let go of avenging himself. The trouble with un-forgiveness is that it blocks our ability to receive God’s blessings. The “Cancel Culture” today tells us it is OK and even expected of us to get revenge. But according to Christ, we are blessed in the measure to which we bless others.

Jesus’ admonitions to forgive, not judge, and not condemn are so beautifully lived out by Old Testament Joseph (Genesis 45:3-15). Joseph is probably the most Christ-like person described in the Old Testament. Recall that his 10 brothers from another mother had sold him into slavery (he was about 17). They fully expected him to die in Egypt, as slaves were not treated well. They compounded their sin by lying to their father about Joseph’s supposed death, and causing him great grief. His grief was so profound and so agonizing that his brother Judah ended up leaving the family camp to live among Canaanites for a time.

But because of Joseph’s supernatural skill as a “seer,” he was rescued from prison by Pharaoh to interpret (see the meaning of) his ominous and perplexing dreams (by this point Joseph was 30YO). Previously, he had been able to see into the motives of his brothers, which got him sold into slavery. He had also correctly read the motives of Potipher’s wife, but received a prison sentence anyway. And, finally, his ability to see into the future of his prison roommate’s life had brought him to the attention of Pharaoh.

Now, with his brothers gathered around him in all his splendor (aged 39, having lived in Egypt for 22 years), as Vizier of Egypt, he sees as well as discerns and reveals God’s purposes in what his brothers had done to him. Prior to this passage, he has tested his felonious brothers twice to see if their character has changed at all in the 22 years since he last saw them.

It appears they have come to regret their past actions toward him, as well as the inconsolable grief they have caused their father, Jacob.

So, as per Peterson’s The Message, he tells his kin–>I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt. But don’t feel badly, don’t blame yourselves for selling me. God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives. There has been a famine in the land now for two years; the famine will continue for five more years—neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me on ahead to pave the way and make sure there was a remnant in the land, to save your lives in an amazing act of deliverance. So you see, it wasn’t you who sent me here but God. He set me in place as a father to Pharaoh, put me in charge of his personal affairs, and made me ruler of all Egypt.

The trouble with forgiveness is that it is difficult for us to offer. Our sinful human nature wants us to pursue revenge. But God will bless our efforts to forgive others. Joseph’s forgiveness results in a Jew, rising to the #2 power position in all of Egypt. It fulfills the prophetic dreams he had had as a young man. In addition, God uses Joseph to save his Father, all 11 of his brothers, and his extended family (approximately 90 people in all). He also saved unnumbered thousands of Egyptians and other Gentiles.

Joseph also demonstates the truth of Psalm 37, which is “Do not fret.” No matter what our circumstances, we do not need to worry.

Verse 3 tells us to Trust in the Lord and do good. Verse 4 encourages us to delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. It took 22 years, but Joseph—despite being sold into slavery and falsely accused of rape– does not appear to have lost his trust in God.

He did not get angry with God, he forgave his brothers, and God delivered him.

I think that examples like that of Old Testament Joseph and of Corrie ten Boom validate for us that it is possible for us to forgive others and to extend love to our enemies. Even though difficult for us, we can do it with God’s help.

We want to forgive because…

1. Christ commands it of us.

2. Christ demonstrated it to us, by forgiving us through His saving death on the Cross.

Stuart Strachan Jr. relates a tale written by Ernest Hemingway in this way: “The story revolves around a father and his teenage son Paco, set in Spain. Paco was an extremely common name in the Spain of that time. With desires to become a matador and to escape his father’s control, Paco runs away to the capital (from which the title is derived) of Spain, Madrid.

His father, desperate to reconcile with his son, follows him to Madrid and puts an ad in a local newspaper with a simple phrase: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the Madrid newspaper office tomorrow at noon. All is forgiven. I love you.” Hemingway then writes, “the next day at noon in front of the newspaper office there were 800 “Pacos” all seeking forgiveness.” The world is full of people in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. The model for such forgiveness is most profoundly found in Jesus Christ.”

3. And because God gives back to us as good as we give.

This week, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to bring to our minds those people we need to forgive. Then let us go before the throne of God and offer up our desire, our intent to forgive them. God can work with the fact that we may only want to want to forgive. Pray for those persons daily for 30 days and watch and see what our Lord does to them and to us.

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Alleluia, Alleluia!

©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

Nursing Grudges

Pastor Sherry’s message for August/8/2021,

 Scriptures: 2 Sam 18:1-33; Ps 130; Eph 4:25-5:2; Jn 6:35, 41-51

    When I studied the readings for this Sunday, I realized pretty quickly that our Lord was speaking to me.  As a friend of mine from Tallahassee would say, “He had His thumb on my spine!”  You know that happens to us when we hear the Scripture passages read on Sunday, or there is something in the sermon that seems directly meant for me/us.  Back in the mid-80’s, when I was just coming to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it was hard to get myself to church on Sundays.  It was my only morning to sleep in.  But, often, when I would make myself go anyway, there was always something that spoke directly to me.  I realized that Satan tries to keep us from church.  The very time we think we just can’t go is the exact time that God has something special for us to hear or to learn.

    In our Old Testament lesson, 2 Sam 18:5-33, God really spoke to me this week, so I want to spend our time together this morning examining it.  This is one of those passages where the LORD does not sugar-coat the truth.  We see David, a man after God’s own heart, a mighty warrior and a great King, as a very imperfect father.    The context of the reading is Civil War.  Our passage opens with King David telling his army commanders to take it easy with the young man Absalom.  Why? What’s the deal? To find out we have to hit rewind:

    Some years prior, Amnon, the eldest of David’s sons, (born to David’s 3rd wife, Ahimnoan) raped his half-sister, the beautiful Tamar.  David was angry about this, but did not avenge Tamar.  (The patriarch, Jacob/Israel was going to allow the rapist of his daughter to marry her.)  This enraged his sons who then perpetrated vigilante justice toward the guy.  We don’t know why these two fathers did not bring their daughter’s rapists to justice.  Perhaps King David was still feeling guilty about his own sexual immorality with Bathsheba.  Perhaps he thought, “Who am I to punish him for actions I also took?”  Or maybe he realized this is part of the playing out of the consequences of his past sin:  The prophet Nathan had told him—even though God had forgiven him– Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house (2 Samuel 12:10).  Or perhaps David feared taking any punishing action would bring about some sort of bloodshed.  So, even though he could have insisted Amnon marry Tamar, David did not.  This apparent inability of King David to discipline his wayward son incensed Absalom, Tamar’s full brother (both children of David’s 4th wife, Maaca).  Absalom plotted revenge against Amnon—slyly, covertly– for 2 years.  He did not have the teaching of Paul in our Ephesians 4:26-27 lesson to guide him:  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry; and do not give the devil a foothold.  So he invited Amnon, together with his father’s other sons, to a sheep-shearing festival at his country home.  Absalom got Amnon drunk, then had him killed.  Now, just as David had Uriah killed so he could marry the pregnant Bathsheba, David must realize Absalom’s murder of his eldest son mirrors his own homicidal act.

     Knowing he has committed murder, punishable by death, Absalom hits the road and is separated—in exile– from his father for 3 years.  Scripture tells us that, all that time, David longed to see Absalom and mourned his absence (2 Samuel 13).  Curiously, though, he does not send for him.  Absalom is as good as banished.  David has now lost his 2 eldest sons-1 dead, one exiled. 

    in a complicated maneuver, Joab, David’s cousin and general, manipulates David into calling his Absolom home (2 Samuel 14).  David agrees, but does not allow Absalom into his presence.  Another 2 years go by and Absalom grows embarrassed, embittered.  Again, he has a long time to nurse a grudge against his father.   

    Notice that David is uncharacteristically unforgiving!  God has forgiven him of massive sins, but he has taken and nursed an offense toward his son.  The King has to be urged by his cousin to recall Absalom to Jerusalem.  Then, 2 years later, he has to be again urged by his cousin to reconcile with his son.

    So, 5 years after Absalom has killed Amnon (7 years after the rape of Absalom’s sister), David finally summons him.  He greets him with a kiss, but it is too little, too late.  The damage to their relationship has been compounded.  Many cultures in the ancient Near East then, as now, were “Shame-based cultures” (Honor bound).  A son, even a prince, did not shame his father.  By taking a father’s right to discipline Amnon, Absalom has shamed the King.  David had exhibited his corresponding displeasure by not inviting his son back home.  Contrast this with God’s example in the Prodigal Son story.  Privately David loves him and misses him, but publically his pride has taken a hit, and he harbors an offense against Absalom—he nurses a grudge.  He has built up a wall in his heart.  He has emotionally abandoned his son.

    For his part, Absolom is no better.  After having been exiled for 3 years, then waiting on his father to invite him back into his presence another 2, Absalom has grown embittered.  Like Father, like son.  He too has registered a hit to the pride, to the heart.  He too has taken offense and held onto it.  He too has established walls in his heart against his father.  From there, it’s a simple step to betraying his father.

    So Chapter 15 describes how he campaigns—over the next 4 years–to win over his countrymen.  He was exceedingly handsome, and we know from very robust Social Psychology research, that “pretty people” are often thought of more highly than they may actually deserve.  Though he had slain his ½ brother at his own table (a huge violation of ancient Near Eastern hospitality rules), he is now nice as can be to everyone.  It’s a presidential campaign!  He is kissing babies, promising tax cuts, and making promises he has no intention of keeping.  If he had had TV, he would have been giving interviews on cable news, and funding political ads, trying to displace his aging father in the public eye.  Then, before David even suspects what is happening, Absalom launches a coup.  And so we find ourselves in the current chapter:  Civil War, between father and son!

    David, the seasoned warrior, flees the city.  He has his experienced and loyal, professional army with him (like our Navy Seals, Special Forces, or trained military snipers).  They beg David not to go to battle with them due to his age (mid-50’s or 60’s?); they fear that if he were captured, it would mean certain defeat.  So David sees them off and asks them to spare the life of Absalom.

    But Absalom is not a warrior (he is instead a shrewd politico). He takes time to call in Israelite citizens to bear arms in his name.  These may be like our national guard, having some training, but lacking the experience of life-long soldiers.  The armies encounter each other in a large forest—never a good place for a battle.  Trees, hills, cliffs, and lakes appear to have impeded troop movements.  David’s veterans overcome the larger, inexperienced forces.  Absalom may have been trying to retreat, when his marvelous hair entraps him (He was known for his good looks and his long, thick, beautiful hair).  Even though Joab, David’s cousin (Absolom’s 2nd cousin), had been told to capture, not kill the rebel prince, Joab kills him anyway and buries his body in a pit.  Perhaps Joab reasoned that Absalom’s implacable hate would never soften into forgiveness, and that he would always present a threat to David’s throne.  Whatever his reason, he ruthlessly brings a sad chapter to an end:  A second cousin kills a second cousin; the predicted sword has clearly become embedded in David’s house.

    All that is left now is the duty of telling the king.  In an strange little sidebar, two men compete to bring the news.  Oddly, the priest’s son, Ahimaaz—a speedy runner—wants to bring David the bad news.  But cousin Joab insists on sending a foreign slave, a nimble, fleet-footed Ethiopian.  Ahimaaz beats the Cushite to David, but finds he cannot tell the King his son is dead; neither really can the slave.  They both answer the King obliquely, but David guesses the truth.  David is bereft!  Oh my son, Absalom!  My son, my son, Absalom!  Many commentators call this the most moving scene of a father’s grief in all of literature!  David’s heart appears to be broken.  In spite of all that Absalom had done to hurt him, in spite of having to again flee from a rival king set on killing him, David grieves the loss of his son.

    What might God be saying to us today through this ancient account?  

    1.) What do we do when people we care about take offense?  We cannot hang on to offenses, nurse grudges, or harbor hurt feelings.  They expand over time.  As we see in this account, they harden into bitterness.  They shrivel our hearts and separate us from God.  We must recognize and take responsibility for our own sins of pride—who are we to hold onto resentments when Jesus Christ forgave His murderers from the Cross?  We must forgive the offense, pray for the person who offended us, and attempt to make amends.  From the perspective of time and distance, we can see where either Absalom or David could have mended the breach.

           2.) Isn’t it true that we reap what we sow?  David killed a man so he could have that man’s wife.  In the very next generation one son is sexually immoral, ravaging a woman who was not his wife.  The second son kills the first.  God forgives us of our sins—if we just humble ourselves and ask it of Him.  But He often lets us live with the fruit/the consequences of our mistakes, either in our own lives, or in our children’s or grandchildren’s generations.

3.) Forgive, before it’s too late. I picture King David wailing, keening his grief, sobbing with regret, wishing he had handled Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom differently–three children’s lives ruined. David must have been so sorry that he had not been as competent a father as he had been a king. What if he had sought out God in his parenting, as he did in so many other facets of his life? In Psalm 130:1 the psalmist laments, Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. In parenting, in all things, let us call upon the Lord…for wisdom to respond to our children in a righteous way; for assistance in not taking offense (or holding onto one); and for the grace to forgive as we have been forgiven. Amen! May it be so.

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Respect and Grace, Not Revenge.

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 27, 2021

Scriptures: 2 Samuel 1:1-27; Psalm 130

We live in a time when we are encouraged to get our revenge on our enemies, political or otherwise. Recently I heard a news commentator, Trey Gowdy, do a monologue on why he prefers sports to politics. (Gowdy used to be a US representative from South Carolina, but did not run for re-election due to his disgust over the corruption he encountered while serving in D.C.) He compared our national situation to a choice between golf, baseball, and professional wrestling: He said that in golf, players call penalties on themselves (The best golfers own their mistakes. No one respects the ones who lie or cheat.). In baseball, all agree to abide by the rulings of an umpire, and we all hope the umpire is fair to both sides. But in professional wrestling, there are no rules; no fairness; the end justifies the means (do whatever it takes to win); the outcome is fixed; and it is less a sport than entertainment.

Gowdy strongly implied that our national government is currently run more like professional wrestling than we might think or want. Political wrongdoers lack the integrity to hold themselves accountable or to admit and apologize for their wrongs. There is no national umpire/referee to enforce the rules fairly. And one’s political ends clearly appear to justify the means.

Nevertheless, Gowdy went on to opine that he has hope for America, due to how we tend to behave in sports:

1.) He reported having seen a woman in pro-golf recently pull for her opponent to sink a crucial putt.

2.) He related how another woman golfer–who had led the tournament only to lose at the end–did not blame others, the course, or her circumstances, but graciously thanked the fans for lifting her spirits.

3.) He shared how the Alabama softball team’s coach responded at the college world series. They interviewed him as his team was losing (This seems like kicking a guy when he is down, but reporters do this all the time). Rather than display anger or a vengeful attitude, the coach praised 2 other coach-peers who were retiring after the series.

The commentator hopes we will, as a nation, respond more like the sportswomen and the coach he referenced and less like politicians who do not congratulate or pull for their opponents; who only appreciate their followers but castigate those who disagree with them; and who blame anyone else for their defeat and desire revenge against their opponents.

A similar story is told about General Robert E. Lee, from about 150 years ago now. It appears that General William Whiting, a confederate peer, loudly and critically criticized Lee behind his back. You might think that Lee would wait for an opportunity to seek revenge upon the man. In fact, an opportunity presented itself one day when President Jefferson Davis summoned Gen. Lee to meet with him. The President asked Lee what he thought of Gen. Whiting. Without hesitation, Lee commended Whiting with high praise for his military abilities. Another officer who was present at the meeting called Lee aside to suggest that he must not be aware of the unkind things Whiting had been saying about him. Lee answered: “I understood that the President desired to know my opinion of Whiting, not Whiting’s opinion of me.” General Robert E. Lee was a man of integrity and a true gentleman—and a personal hero of mine. Lee could have potentially cost Gen. Whiting his career, but chose to take the higher road, instead.

Our Old Testament lesson today (2 Samuel 1:1-27) speaks to how our God wants us to take the higher road as well. The context finds Saul, his sons, and the Israelite army at war once again with the Philistines (about 14-15 years after David had defeated the Philistine champion, Goliath). David, not yet king and trying to maintain some distance from the murderous Saul, has been fighting the Amalakites.

As our passage opens, David has defeated his Amalakite opponents and returned to Ziklag, a town now unknown but reputedly somewhere south of Jerusalem.

It was there that he learned that Saul and Jonathan had been killed at Mt. Gilboa, in southern Galilee (to the north of David). Jonathan, as well as his two brothers, Abinadab, and Malk-Shana, was killed in battle. Saul himself had been seriously wounded but chose to fall on his own sword (to commit suicide) rather than being taken captive by the victorious Philistines.

David is severely grieved at the death of his dear friend Jonathan, but also very distressed at King Saul’s death. He had had 2 opportunities to kill Saul himself but had held off because he knew Saul was “the Lord’s anointed”. 1 Samuel 24:6 The LORD forbid that I should do this thing [kill Saul], to the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed. The Lord had agreed to Saul’s kingship. The people chose him and God had the prophet Samuel anoint him king. David reasoned the Lord would remove kingship from Saul when He, not David, determined. Notice: David waited on the Lord, the theme of our psalm today, Psalm 130.

Saul’s death was a big deal—he was the 1st King of Israel. We might equate his death with another: Back in March of 1991, one of the oldest and largest Redwoods in California died and fell to the ground. Locals called thetree “the Dyerville Giant,” and apparently it still lies where it landed. The tree had been 362 feet tall (the height of a 30-story building). They measured its diameter at 17 feet and its circumference at 52 feet. Experts somehow estimated its weight to exceed one million pounds and believe it was probably 2,000 years old. (My daughter has a degree in forestry and has told me that trees do have a life span. Like us, they grow old and die—no matter how well we water or fertilize them–just as this amazing redwood did.) When the Dyerville Giant hit the ground, people from a mile away said thought they had heard a train wreck. The vibrations were felt 10 miles away, and no doubt some thought they had experienced an earthquake. The death of this tree had a huge physiological impact on many. Additionally, people were touched and saddened at the demise of something so monumental.

But, sadly, in our contemporary view of things, there is no such respect—like for Saul or even for this tree–for those in authority with whom we disagree. We speak badly about them. We dismiss them or hold them in contempt when they fail to meet our expectations, or disappoint our hopes. And, in the extremes of “the cancel culture,” we target them for revenge, even when they are out of power, blasting them and castigating them in the press and on social media; trying to prevent them from getting new jobs, eating lunch peacefully, or just going about their lives; intimidating them with nuisance lawsuits and even threatening their lives.

Notice how David responds to the Amalekite man who brings him Saul’s crown and bracelet. (Obviously this guy does not realize that David has just been battling his own people.) Not understanding David’s godly forbearance for Saul, the guy mistakenly thinks David will reward him for falsely claiming he killed the king. Instead, David has the fellow killed, saying, (v.15)à Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, “I killed the Lord’s anointed.”

Then, David writes a lament which he intends for all the archers in Israel to memorize and recite as they each work on their bows. He expresses his grief:

1.) He curses Mt. Gilboa for being the site of Johnathan’s and Saul’s deaths. I looked this mountain up on the internet and saw where it is to this day only barren rocks and soil. Nothing seems to grow on it, over 3,000 years later.

2.) He praises Saul for the good he did, especially for bringing such prosperity to Israel that women could dress in red cloth (expensive due to dying techniques of that day).

3.) And he mourns for his close friend, Johnathan, who had proven more devoted to him (not in a homosexual way) than had most of his wives—including Johnathan’s sister, Michal, who Saul had given to him in marriage as a reward for killing Goliath.

4.) He seasons the lament with the repeated refrain, How the mighty have fallen! (which reminds me of the tree!)

I must admit, I am not always very respectful of those in power who make what I consider bone-headed decisions for our country, nor am I often kind to sports opponents. I wonder if the Lord is chastening me to be more respectful and grace-filled toward those with whom I disagree. I do believe that we are all called by Christ to offer grace and to respect the rights of those we consider our opponents. That’s part of the Gospel message, isn’t it? We are to love our enemies and pray for them. As Paul says in Romans 12:19-20àDo not take revenge, my Friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge. I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

While our culture may currently resemble professional wrestling, this is not God’s desire for us. This week, let’s try to be like a good golfer and admit our faults and correct our failings on our own. Let’s also remember we do have an eternal, heavenly, perfect umpire/referee who enforces the rules fairly; offers grace and forgiveness to us all; and who doesn’t miss a thing!

In closing, I would ask you to consider the former custom of a prehistoric tribe in New Guinea. When they prepared to confront an enemy tribe in battle, they would preface their attack with what they called “murder songs.” As they sang these songs, they named before their gods the specificpersons they wished to kill. However, once they converted to Christianity, instead of shouting the names any people they hated, they shouted the names of the sins they hated, and called on God to destroy these sins. We could take a lesson from these Paleolithic tribesmen! Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

5

The God of Second Chances

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 24, 2021

Scriptures: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Ps 62:5-12; 1 Cor7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20

         Our culture tends to believe that success is good but failure is bad.  Furthermore, we should avoid failure at all costs.  This can lead, however, to some really bad decisions/actions on our parts.  I read this week about the Darwin Awards.  Very cynically, these are given to people…“who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it—usually doing so in an extraordinarily stupid manner.”  I don’t know who these Darwin folks are, but they scan the news, looking for foolish ways that people accidentally kill themselves.  They have been making these posthumous awards annually since 1994.  One recent winner was a 19 YO male from Houston.  He had bragged to his friends that he could win at Russian Roulette.  His gun was a semi-automatic. Apparently he either didn’t know or didn’t remember that it automatically inserts a bullet in the chamber whenever it’s cocked.  In other words, his chances of surviving pulling the trigger were zero, and he indeed died.  A second recent winner was a Malaysian executioner.  Imagine putting that on your resume:  “From 2001 to 2008, I was an official executioner.”  It seem she wanted a friend to take a picture of him standing on the gallows with a noose around his neck.  However, he hadn’t first checked to see if the trap door was locked in place.  When he stepped on the platform with his head in the noose, the trap door opened and he was hanged!  The Darwin Folks would have us believe these two got what they deserved and we are better off without them.

               In a similar vein, do youremember France’s Maginot Line of WWII? The French had heavily armed and barricaded the border they shared with Germany, thinking this would save them from a Nazi invasion.  What they failed to consider is that the Nazis would first invade Belgium, then cross into France from that border, breaking into France to the west of and avoiding the Maginot Line altogether.  I’m sure students of military history have decried France’s misplaced trust in this impaired defensive strategy as a huge and costly mistake.

         Currently we are dealing with the “Cancel Culture.”  If the press or social media discover one bad thing you have done in your past, they come after you with no mercy, shaming and embarrassing you in public.  There is no grace and no mercy.

         Cancel Culture, the Darwin Awards, and even the experience of the Maginot Line would have us all believe that it is fatal to make a mistake. Such a belief is both unchristian and totally at odds with our God!  He often views failure/mistakes as a way to bring about good:

         (a) Failure keeps us humble;

         (b) Failure reminds us we are neither perfect nor gods;

         (c) Failure allows God to mold and shape our character;

         (d) Failure helps increase our dependence upon God.  When we see what a mess we have made of our lives, we realize we need God to guide and protect us.

         Two of our Scriptures today reference a godly response to failure.  In our Old Testament lesson, we catch up to Jonah (3:1-5, 10) post whale experience.  You probably remember that God had given the prophet the assignment to evangelize the Assyrians.  But Jonah was horrified at the prospect and immediately ran in the opposite direction.  Maybe he or his family had been victims of Assyrian raids, as they were feared all over the ancient Near East for their ferocity in battle.  The tales told regaling the revolting and brutal things they did to those they fought and defeated would strike terror into the hearts of any listener.  It is said that piles of human skulls sat outside the gates to all their cities.  Perhaps Jonah ran from the missionary task because he instead wanted God to justly punish them (like the Cancel Culture, he wanted to exact revenge on his enemies).  Or perhaps he just couldn’t get his mind around the fact that God meant to show them—even them!–mercy.  Or maybe he was just simply afraid of them!  Whatever his rationale, he headed to Spain, got caught in a violent storm, was thrown off the ship by the crew—who were sure someone on board had offended the gods–and swallowed by a giant fish/whale.

         Our lesson today picks up with Jonah having been miraculously vomited up onto the beach, only to have God again tell him to go to Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria.  And, having learned his lesson—it’s not healthy to defy God—he goes. Archeological digs dating from the 1950’s tell us the city was apparently 27 miles in circumference (2.5 mi. long; 1.33mi. wide).  It was probably like many of our large cities, in that one suburb ran into another in a big urban sprawl.  It apparently was so large that it took Jonah several days to walk through it, proclaiming his message of repentance.

         Now I don’t know about you, but I have often wondered why fierce Ninevites would pay any attention to a lone, bedraggled Israelite.  But imagine how Jonah might have looked after having spent 2-3 days in a whale’s digestive juices.  Other folks who have been recovered from the stomachs of large fish (and some have over the years), have been found to be hairless.  Like persons who have undergone chemotherapy, they lose the hair on their heads, faces (including eyebrows and eyelashes), and their bodies.  Jonah probably didn’t wear a wig, so his totally hairless appearance, and lack of a beard, would have surely grabbed peoples’ attention.  No doubt the stomach acids altered his skin color as well.  He probably looked orange, the original “Orange Man.”  The folks of Nineveh had never seen anyone like him, so they probably stopped to gawk.  While he had their attention, he told them they had 40 days to change their ways or die! Pagan folks (& some Christians too) are often superstitious.  They would have figured Jonah was someone special, so they all—even the king—immediately fell into repentance.  They were profoundly impacted.  Several hundred thousand people came to grief over their sins and desired to know and follow God.  J. Vernon McGee, my favorite Bible commentator, calls this the largest revival in history.

         This story is such a wonderful demonstration of God’s mercy.  Look at how grace-filled He was toward these horrible Assyrians! He gave them a second chance.  Look at how grace-filled He was toward His disobedient prophet! I’m always amazed at how God uses and redeems our rough experiences, when we allow Him.  He even used Jonah’s altered and strange appearance as a means of attracting an audience willing to listen to this wandering Israelite.

         And these are not the only examples of God’s extension of second chances to folks in Scripture:

         (1) Jacob stole his brother’s inheritance, yet God made  him a patriarch of the faith;

         (2) King David committed adultery and murder, and yet God later—following David’s repentance–made him a man after His own heart.

         (3) Peter denied and abandoned Christ when He needed  him most, yet Jesus made him an Apostle and very likely the first Bishop of Rome.

         (4) Saul, who zealously murdered Christians, encounters the Risen Christ, and becomes Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.

         (5) In Jesus’ story of the Prodigal This son, who according to ancient Near Eastern tradition, should have probably been snubbed by his offended father, is gladly embraced.  Any on-lookers would have expected the father to kick this money-grubbing, insolent, disrespectful son to the curb, but his father greeted him with  kisses.  Their neighbors would have expected to see the son beaten, but instead his grateful father produces a celebratory banquet.

All of these examples demonstrate that our God is a God of grace and forgiveness.   He patiently waits on us to come to our senses and come to Him.   Unwilling that any of us would miss out on His love and mercy, He offers us a 2nd chance, and sometimes even more!

         Our psalm today is Psalm 62, written by King David in his elder years. As you read it, you may be surprised by David’s themes as he wrote this after having survived a palace coup by his favorite son, Absolom.  Over time, and without David’s knowledge, Absolom had curried the favor of former friends of his father’s, and even a portion of the Israelite army no longer loyal to the King.  Absolom and his cronies entered Jerusalem by one gate, while his elderly and grieved father is forced to flee (with his court, advisors, and army personnel still loyal to him), by another.  So, as David composed this psalm, he is feeling rejected and betrayed by his favorite son, and overcome by grief.

         Yet notice how he focuses not on his pain, but on his relationship with God.  He expresses his trust in God!  Though he has been forced from his capital city in defeat, instead of being caught up in bitterness or a desire for revenge, he expresses optimism and praise to the Lord!

         (1) In v.9 He says he doesn’t put his trust in the fickle mob, not in men, but in God;

         (2) In v.10 He says he doesn’t trust in material things;

         (3) In v.11 Instead, he says he trusts in God because God has the Power!

         (4) In v.12 Instead, he says he trusts in God because God is merciful.

         These are such good lessons for us in these uncertain times, aren’t they?  When wild-eyed and unhinged political zealots are calling for revenge and retribution toward their enemies; when the Covid-19 has morphed and ramped up its killing capacity yet again; when the economic future seems uncertain; when we see our civil rights being challenged and increasingly curtailed by big tech, big business, big media, and big government; and when another caravan of thousands of migrants seems poised to storm our borders; in all of these situations, we need to put our trust in God.

         Like Jonah, we can be obedient and stand back and watch Him do miracles!  Like King David, we can trust in Him despite our circumstances…remembering that God has the power to protect us, remembering that God is merciful.  Unlike the people who give out the Darwin Awards, the Nazis, or the Cancel Culture, our God has shown time and time again that He believes we can change—with His help.  He doesn’t demand that we be perfect (the more I feel pressured to be perfect, the more mistakes I tend to make).  He just wants us, like King David, to trust in Him.  And He wants us, like the prophet Jonah, to obey Him.  Thank you, Lord, for being the God of 2nd chances!  Amen!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams