The Antidote to Isolation and Alienation

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 22, 2023

Scriptures: Isa 9:1-4; Ps 27:1-9; 1 Cor 1:10-18; Matt 4:12-23

John Fairless and Delmer Chilton, of “Two Bubba’s and a Bible” fame share the following story:

“Back in the 1980’s there was a man named Larry Trapp living in Lincoln, Nebraska. His name was doubly ironic: He was a man trapped in his own hatred and trapped in his own body. Larry Trapp was suffering from a fatal disease and was confined to a wheel chair; he was nearly blind; he was also the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Nebraska. He truly was a man trapped in darkness.

“Larry Trapp became obsessed with driving Michael Weisser out of town. Weiser was Jewish and the cantor of the Lincoln Synagogue. Trapp barraged Weisser with hate mail, at home and on the job [Remember, this was in the days before cell phones and internet]. He made incessant threatening phone calls, he organized demonstrations; he did everything he could to make life a living hell for Michael Weisser and his family.

“Cantor Weisser was truly intimidated and scared. He had a wife and children he wanted to protect. But Michael Weisser was also a man who was unwilling to let another person’s hate prevent him from showing love. So he started calling Larry Trapp’s home, always getting the answering machine. So, he always left a message. He said, ‘This is Michael Weisser. I’d like to talk to you. I want to know why you are doing this to me.’ Finally, one day, Larry Trapp answered the phone, screaming and cursing and threatening, ‘WHAT DO YOU WANT? YOU’RE HARASSING ME!’

“And Michael Weisser said, ‘I know you have a hard time getting around and can’t drive, and I was wondering if you might need a ride to the grocery store or something?’ After a very long stunned silence, Larry Trapp quietly replied, ‘Uh, no, I’ve got that covered, but thanks for asking.’

“Larry and Michael kept talking by phone. After a while, Larry Trapp started going over to the Jewish Cantor’s house for dinner, they became friends, and when it became apparent he had nowhere else to go the Weisser family invited Larry to move in with them and he did, dying there in Michael’s arms some months later.

“Somewhere along the way, Larry Trapp left the KKK. He spent his last time on earth spreading a message of love in a world of hate; Larry Trapp became an apostle to Klansmen and other hate groups, trying to let them see the great light of love and forgiveness he has seen and experienced.”

(Originally reported in Time Magazine, February 17, 1992)

I wish I could tell you that Michael Weisser was a Christian. He was not a Christian, and yet he offered Christ-like love, compassion, and mercy to someone who had been thoroughly hateful to him. Obviously he lived by God’s admonition in Leviticus 19:18: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. What a great example for us! We overcome hate not by repaying it in kind. We overcome hate not by exacting revenge—as the culture advises us. We overcome hate with a calm manner and a loving heart.

The plain truth is that disconnectedness — isolation and alienation (way too common in our nation today) is at the root of most human problems. We are disconnected from God, from each other, and even from our true selves. Think about those who instigate mass shootings—or even those who suicide. They tend to be loners, people who feel like outsiders. They lack genuine, open, trusting, and loving relationships. They don’t feel a sense of community and envy those who do. Over time, they become angry, disappointed, without hope and, I believe, then fall prey to acting on Satan-inspired thoughts like killing or destroying.

Now think about how we are to function as a church: We are to gather together to (1) Worship God; (2) Learn more about Him so we can love Him; (3) And to form a community that demonstrates His love for us to others. The church should be the antidote to the poison of disconnectedness, isolation, and alienation.

This is the clear message of three of our passages today.

A. Our Gospel is from Matthew 4:12-23, and describes how Jesus began His public ministry: Matthew 1st tells us Jesus’ motivation for moving His base of operations from Nazareth to Capernaum. We know from the prophesies of Isaiah in 9:1-2 and 42:6-7, that Jesus was/is meant to be a light for the Gentiles (a corrective for what the Israelites had failed to do). Additionally, Luke 4:14-30 tells us that Jesus was rejected by His friends and neighbors in Nazareth when He essentially claimed He was the Messiah. So, He moved His base of operations NE to a larger town, Capernaum. It was a fishing town on the banks of Sea of Galilee. Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew all came from there. It was also a busy border town with a customs house meant to regulate trade from two major trade routes: One running East and West; a second, “The Way of the Sea,” joined Arabia and Egypt with nations north of Israel. It was a region which contained a large number of Roman citizens (there for vacations, retirement, and “peace-keeping” purposes) and other folks from all over. As a result, Jesus could teach and interact with many, but without the scrutiny He would have received in Jerusalem.

There He enlisted His first disciples…out walking on the shoreline. First, He calls brothers Andrew and Peter (Remember, Andrew had been JtB’s disciple, an probably heard John call Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Then He calls brothers James and John. All four guys fish for a living, but He promises to make them fishers of men. Apparently they drop everything and follow Him. Jesus is picking the original leaders of His as yet to be formed Church.

The Church was/is His strategy for reaching us, the Gentiles. We know He lived and traveled with these guys for 3 years. They learned from His teachings; their observations of Him; and the practice opportunities He gave them. Jesus could have established His church any number of ways, but He gathered together a small group of committed followers. He developed deep, personal relationships with them. He then sent them out to transform the world–to carry His light to Jews, and to rescue Gentiles from the darkness of paganism or unbelief.

B. St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 1:10-18) emphasizes 2 points: He wants us to be as unified as we can be…Not to argue the merits/strengths of different pastors; not to hold a special allegiance to the ones who baptized us, married us, or buried our mothers, etc.; not even to come to church to make ourselves feel better. Rather, we must remember we are in the church in order to learn to know and to love Jesus, and to offer love to those who don’t yet know Him.

Paul wants us to follow Jesus—just like James, John, Andrew, and Peter. Rather than competing with each other, we need to keep our focus on Christ. Our loyalty is not to this church building—though we may love it–or even to our denomination. Our loyalty is to Jesus.

I reviewed my old sermons and realized I preached what I am about to say three years ago. We are at a cross-road in our denomination: Those who favor ordaining active gay persons and allowing same sex marriage are once again bringing that issue up for a vote. I said then and I think it is still true: I believe the United Methodist Church as we know it, will soon split, with those who hold to Scripture separating from those who appear to be following the dictates of the culture. We will be holding a parish meeting this Wednesday, January 25th, to discuss what we feel called to do. If we want to remain true to Biblical teachings, we may opt to leave the UMC and either join another denomination or remain independent. I urge you to pray about this, and to remember that Paul is urging us to remain faithful to Christ above all things. If the denomination is bowing to pressure from the culture—and chooses to depart from the teachings of Scripture–we may want to disassociate ourselves from the denomination. I was ordained an Episcopal “priest,” and left that demonination when the same split arose in favor of the Anglican Church. Please note I don’t take such a move lightly. In fact, I find it heart-breaking.

Meanwhile, it may seem like a big disconnect to consider a denominational split while also speaking of building relationships. When we pursue the Truth, sometimes we have to walk apart from the culture, from the denomination that nurtured our faith, and even sometimes from our families, or members of our families. Nevertheless, we strive to build relationships when we focus our spiritual energies on loving God and loving our neighbors.

May God give us His wisdom in this hour. Amen!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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Why the Wait?

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 30, 2022

Scriptures: Hab 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Ps 119:137-144; 2 Thess 1:1-4,11-12; Lk 19:1-10

Habakkuk is one of the Minor Prophets (a short book at the end of the Old Testament, only 3 chapters long) whose major theme is faith/believing/trusting in God. Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah and lived from approximately 640-570BC. Instead of writing warnings to sinful Israel to repent, he delivered a series of dialogues between himself and God. In our reading today, he asks God (Chapter1),

1.) Why is there so much violence and injustice?

2.) How come You tolerate wrong-doing, LORD?

3.) Why don’t You do something?!!

Then, in Chapter 2, he asks, Why would you use an unjust nation (Babylonia) to punish us? True, I get that we are sinners who deserve punishment; but why would You use them? They are worse than we are, and they aren’t even believers!

Let’s focus on how God answers Habakkuk, because both the issues the prophet raises–and God’s responses–are very contemporary. To the question of why God permits evil, the LORD says, (v.5) Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. What could that be? In the short run, He is going to allow them to be chastised by/taken to “the Biblical woodshed” by being defeated and captured by the pagan Babylonians. This happened in 587BC. Jerusalem and the Temple were burned; the people who were not killed were chained and led off to Babylon as slaves. However, as the books Ezra and Nehemiah later attest, they were freed to return to the Land after 70 years of captivity. In the long run, however, it is a subtle prediction of the coming of Messiah. Jesus, God Himself coming to earth in human form, is indeed… something in your days that you would not believe. Jesus, Emmanuel—God with us–will be breaking into human history to both demonstrate God’s love for us and to save us from our sins.

To the question of why God uses sinful nations to punish His people—and bear in mind that we Christ-followers are His People, and that we do currently deserve punishment for a multitude of national and personal sins—the prophet says, (2:1) I will stand at my watch and station myself at the ramparts; I will look to see what He [God] will say to me. As a person of great faith, the prophet states essentially, “I don’t understand so I am going to wait on the LORD to make it clear to me.” Notice, he doesn’t say, “This is nuts! I’m just going to do what I need to do to take care of me and mine.” Instead, he waits in faith, trusting in God’s purposes for him and for us.

God does answer him: (2:2-3) …though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. What’s God mean by this? It is as though the Lord is saying, “Yes I am using a corrupt, immoral nation to discipline My People, but the day will come that I discipline them too.” Nebuchadnezzar was puffed up and arrogant. History reports that Babylon fell in 539 BC, overtaken by the Medes and the Persians. No nation lives outside God’s purview, not then and not now. The Lord truly is sovereign over all things. King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 8:11 When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong. People wrongly assume that God is not watching, that He doesn’t know what’s going on. When it looks like He is tolerating evil behavior, it’s not an invitation to continue to do wrong. He is instead giving a nation time to come to its senses and repent.

So what is Habakkuk saying to us today? I believe he is making at least four important points:

1. Our God is very aware of all the sinful behavior around us (ours and others’).

2. God’s judgment may not come speedily, but it does come eventually.

3. In the meantime, our Lord is exceedingly patient, not wanting anyone to perish. He gives us all plenty of time and multiple opportunities to come to Him in repentance. And don’t we love and appreciate that about Him!

4. When we don’t understand why God is doing what He is doing, we should follow the example of Habakkuk: Be a watchman or watchwoman, and Trust in the Lord; Pray; and Wait.

Now, let’s turn our focus to today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 19:1-10, a perfect example of why God often chooses to wait.

Jesus is headed toward Jerusalem to be crucified. He enters Jericho, a town 20 miles NE of Jerusalem. Just prior to entering the city, Jesus restores the sight of the blind man, Bartimaeus. Next, He is on the lookout for a notorious sinner, Zacchaeus. Always guided by the Father’s will, Jesus goes looking for this man. This is a divine appointment.

Zacchaeus (ironically his name means pure) is…

1. The Chief Tax Collector for the region— As I explained last week–in reference to the prayers of the Pharisee versus those of the tax collector—tax collectors were despised by their countrymen because they were perceived as Roman collaborators/sell-outs/traitors, as well as thieves. The Mishna, a Jewish commentary on God’s Law, pairs tax collectors with murderers and robbers.

2. He was also very rich because, in a pyramid system, he took a percentage of what every tax collector under his authority pocketed;

3. He was a man who had forsaken his religion in a quest for wealth;

4. Lastly, he was short in stature.

Zacchaeus learns Jesus is coming and wants to see Him (He appears to have a spiritual hunger, like the blind man, Bartimaeus). He runs ahead and climbs a sycamore-fig tree. This tree would have been between 30-40 feet high, with slick bark, and low, broad limbs that ran parallel to the ground. He could have viewed Jesus from that vantage point without being observed—or so he thought! Jesus, of course, knows he is there, stops, and calls to him to come down. Again, this is a divine appointment. Jesus’ mission has always been to reclaim the prodigals (Luke15:11-31—the Parable of the Prodigal Son), and to welcome the humble into God’s kingdom (Luke 18:9-14—the humble. praying tax collector of last week’s Gospel). Notice Jesus says to him, (v.5) Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today. Now I ask you, what’s with the must? Who can make Jesus do anything? Only God the Father has that kind of influence.

The people murmur….Jesus does not stay at the home of a Pharisee; nor does He appear to visit the most influential persons of the city. Instead he chooses to hang out with the most notorious and despised man there. The crowd considers him outside the possibility of redemption; but thank God Jesus does not write off any who are open to God. There appears to be a time lapse—we don’t know how long they conferred at Zach’s house. But Jesus (and His Father) recognized Zach’s spiritual bankruptcy. Jesus probably talked with Zacchaeus about our need for God and God’s willingness and ability to meet that need.

But whatever was said, Zacchaeus is transformed! He admits he has been robbing the poor and says he will give ½ of his wealth to make amends (compare this with the Rich Young Ruler who could not let go of his money to follow Jesus, Matthew 19:16-24). The Law required giving back what was taken and adding 20%. So a “fine” of 20% was considered generous. Zacchaeus is going to gift the poor with 50% of all he has. He also promises to give back 4 times what he defrauded others. He actually penalizes himself by meeting the standard expected of rustlers: In Exodus 22:1, if a person stole an ox, they had to replace it with 5 cows; if one sheep, 4 sheep were required. Zacchaeus demonstrates his new faith with his works (James 2:18). Jesus affirms his transformation by saying (v.9) Today salvation has come to this house….He also points out that Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham—no matter how bad a sinner; and that Jesus came (v.10) to seek and to save what was lost. (Remember the parables of Luke 15 one lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son, all of whom were located).

So why the Wait? Because God may be doing a new thing. So that sinners like Zacchaeus (and us) can be saved. So that we might fall in love with Jesus and desire to please Him. So that we become magnanimous, forgiving, and grace-filled toward Him and others. Thanks be to God Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Don’t Be A Fool!

Pastor Sherry’s message for September 11, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 4:11-12, 22-28; Ps 14, 1 Tim 2:12-17; Lk 15:1-10

The first verse of our Psalm appointed for today says The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Consider the following story:

An atheist was walking through the woods, admiring all the “accidents” that evolution had created. “What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!” he said to himself. As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. Turning to look, he saw a 7-foot grizzly bear charging towards him. He ran away as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder and saw the grizzly was closing in. Somehow he ran even faster, so scared that tears came to his eyes. He looked again, and the bear was even closer. His heart was pounding, and he tried to run faster. He tripped and fell to the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up, but the bear was right over him, reaching for him with its left paw and raising its right paw to strike him.

At that instant the atheist cried, “Oh God help!” Time stopped. The bear froze. The forest was silent. Even the river stopped moving. As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky, “You deny My existence for all these years, teach others that I don’t exist, and even credit creation to a cosmic accident. Do you expect Me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?”

The atheist looked directly into the light and said, “I would feel like a hypocrite to become a Christian after all these years, but perhaps you could make the bear a Christian?”

“Very well,” said the voice.

The light went out. The river ran. The sounds of the forest resumed. Then the bear dropped his right paw, brought both paws together, bowed its head, and spoke: “Lord, for this food which I am about to receive, I am truly thankful.”

(The source of this story is unknown.)

The Hebrew word for fool is nabal. Nabal is variously translated as madman; crazy; lacking in sense. Although our Lord Jesus told us not to call any man a fool, we can probably think of several serving in public office today. Perhaps you remember an Old Testament character from 1 Samuel 25 named Nabal. During the days when King Saul was chasing David and his men around the wilderness, trying to kill him, this man both insulted and denied food and water to David and his 400 men– even after they had protected his sheep and his fields. Last week we talked about “counting the cost.” This man foolishly did not anticipate what his contempt for David might have earned him. David was God’s anointed. Nabal, the fool, died of a massive stroke 10 days later.

The point is that God says those who do not believe in Him—we call them atheists–are fools. The guy in the bear story was a fool. Nabal was aptly named as he too was a fool. Obviously, we don’t want to be fools like those who deny God’s existence. You here in this congregation are all believers and thus are not fools. So why emphasize this point? Did you know that Karl Marx was an atheist and that Communism is built on a rejection of God. There are forces afoot in our culture today trying to drive us into Communism. This is not a direction a wise Christian can tolerate and about which we cannot remain silent.

Two of our Scripture passages today give us God’s perspective on unbelief or atheism:

A. The prophet Jeremiah speaks for God in Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28. In verses 11-12, he says the Lord is bringing judgment against Judah, the Southern Kingdom. God’s people there have run out of second, third, fourth, and tenth chances. They had the example of what happened to the Northern Kingdom in 722BC. God has sent them prophet after prophet to warn them. By Jeremiah’s time, the Lord is fed up with their casual and contemptuous treatment of Him. If they do still worship Him, their worship is half-hearted. They respond to God with rote, joyless ritual, rather than with hearts that love and praise Him. Most, however—just like in America today—no longer believe in God and no longer worship Him. The Sabbath is just a day like any other. They don’t know Scripture (Do you notice how often nonbelievers quote Scripture and quote it out of context? They don’t understand it because they have never studied it.) They don’t see the need for a personal relationship with the Lord; thus, they don’t develop one.

Therefore, in verse 22, God says of them My people are fools; they do not know Me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good. Every week it seems, conservative newscasters ask why our culture has gotten so corrupt, cruel, and violent. People with no knowledge of our God do not realize that it is Judeo-Christian values that have guided ethical and compassionate behavior for centuries. But many modern parents are not teaching their children about the Lord. Someone has said, “God has no grandchildren.” Each generation must teach the one following it. We don’t enter heaven because our grandparents were vital believers. Since teaching then next generation about Jesus has been neglected or overlooked, we in America have now become like the Israelites were at the death of Joshua (Judges 2:10-12)—After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers [the folks who entered the Promised Land with Joshua], another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger. If we don’t choose to worship the Lord, we will put something in His place: wealth, power, sexuality, addictions. We have kicked Jesus out of our schools, our courts, and our public life. And we wonder why there is so much lawlessness and evil stomping around our land today.

Consider this true story: Charles Bradlaugh was an outstanding atheist in England. Down in one of the slums of London was a [Methodist] minister by the name of Hugh Price Hughes [1847 -1902]. All London was aware of miracles of grace accomplished at his mission.

Charles Bradlaugh challenged Mr. Hughes to debate with him the validity of the claims of Christianity. London was greatly interested. What would Mr. Hughes do? He immediately accepted the challenge and in doing so added one of his own.

Hughes said, “I propose to you that we each bring some concrete evidences of the validity of our beliefs in the form of men and women who have been redeemed from the lives of sin and shame by the influence of our teaching. I will bring 100 such men and women, and I challenge you to do the same.

“If you cannot bring 100, Mr. Bradlaugh, to match my 100, I will be satisfied if you will bring 50 men and women who will stand and testify that they have been lifted up from lives of shame by the influence of your teachings. If you cannot bring 50, then bring 20 people who will say, as my 100 will, that they have a great joy in a life of self-respect as a result of your atheistic teachings. If you cannot bring 20, I will be satisfied if you bring 10.

“Nay, Mr. Bradlaugh, I challenge you to bring one, just one man or woman who will make such a testimony regarding the uplifting of your atheistic teachings.”

Again London was stirred. What would Mr. Bradlaugh do? In answer, Charles Bradlaugh, with great discomfiture and chagrin, publicly withdrew his challenge for the debate.

(Source: Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, Bible Communications, 1996, Paul Lee Tan)

That’s right! Atheism does not uplift anyone! Instead, it robs folks of hope, peace, and joy. It encourages exactly the kind of self-centered, morally bankrupt and violent behaviors we are seeing more and more of today.

In verses 23-28, the prophet predicts what the land of the Israelites will look like after the Babylonians have besieged and overcome them. Things will appear to be a reverse of God’s acts of creation—(v.23) …formless and empty. There will be no people, as all will have died or been carted away into slavery. There will be no fruitful land, but only desert. And, by this point, God is very determined on this punishment for unbelief (v.28b) I have decided and will not turn back.

This passage and what subsequently happened to Judah in 587 BC demonstrate to us that there are limits to God’s patience.

B. King David speaks for God in Psalm 14. Read 1st and 2nd Samuel and you will find that David experienced humankind’s depravity on a number of occasions. He describes the fools who do not believe in God as follows: (v.1b) They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. He would have agreed with Jeremiah, who came after him. Much later, Paul, will quote David in Romans 3:12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. We see this today with godless men and women in control of our federal, state and even local government offices. As an example, consider the civil servant in Las Vegas this week who stabbed to death an investigative journalist who had uncovered and reported the man’s dishonesty and fraudulent practices. Corruption, wickedness, and just plain lack of good sense abounds at the highest levels in Washington, D.C. The Israelites have nothing on us—in fact, with social media, TV, and the internet, we have probably out-sinned them (certainly by greater numbers!).

I think we can safely conclude that God is as disappointed in us as He was with them. If we want to see a return to peace in our streets, a lowered crime rate, and more civil behavior, we need to be praying for a national return to Christ. Jesus Christ is the antidote/the corrective vaccine to all of the negative trends in our culture today. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

On this 21st anniversary of 9/11, we need to keep on praying for our country…not just that we will be safe from further terrorist attacks; but that we will relearn—or learn for the 1st time—Christian values and practice Christian virtues. And that we will vote for candidates in 2022 and 2024 who love God and love our country. May God bless us and may God bless America!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Clouds! Oh My!

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 14, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 5:1-9; Ps 80:1-2, 8-19; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Lk 12:49-56

College football gets underway in less than 20 days. But this year, without Mick Hubert, the sports announcing voice of the University of Florida Fighting Gators for 33 years, who just retired in May. Gator football will not sound the same without him.

According to Wikipedia, Mick “… first came to prominence after the Gators’ last-minute win at Kentucky on September 11, 1993. [The Gators went on to win the SEC Championship that season]. His energetic yelling of “DOERING’S GOT A TOUCHDOWN! DOERING’S GOT A TOUCHDOWN! OHHHH MY!” in describing the game-winning touchdown pass from Danny Wuerffel [UF’s Heisman winning quarterback in 1996] to Chris Doering [a current announcer on ESPN] was extensively replayed on national sports networks and became so well known that it was featured in the ESPN films documentary “More than a Voice” almost thirty years later.”

If you ever listened to him broadcast a Gator football game, you know he got very excited. He would often single out good players for their contributions: “Touchdown! Taylor-Made!” when Fred Taylor, a running back from 1994-97, scored; or “Dallas Baker, Touchdown maker!” whenever Dallas, a wide-receiver from 2003-06, “took it to the house.” One of my favorite Mick-isms was his expression for when a Gator receiver caught the ball all alone in the end-zone. He would yell, “Oh My!’ paired with “Quarantined! All alone!”

If we could get as excited about Scripture as Mick did about football, our Hebrews lesson today truly deserves several “Oh My’s!” The writer to the Hebrews cites a long line of heroes as well as martyrs for the faith. Our passage today begins with the Red Sea Crossing. The 2 million-strong Children of Israel lacked faith. They saw they were trapped at the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army behind them, and they wanted to run back to Egypt! But Moses trusted in God, spread out his staff over the water, and watched God part it so they could walk across on dry land!

Jericho, the first city they come to in the Promised Land, was fortified with thick walls designed to protect an arrogant but despicable group of pagans. Joshua, God’s military commander, is told to walk around it, once a day, for 6 days; then 7 times the 7th day…and the walls fell down! Joshua and the Israelites had the victory over the citizens of Jericho because Joshua believed in God. He believed enough to do what would seem ridiculous to other generals. And then he conquered the city, riding in on God’s efforts. Rahab, a prostitute of Jericho, is saved because she had heard stories of the Hebrew God, believed in Him, and hid the 2 Hebrew spies Joshua had sent in to scout the city.

The writer goes on to list other Old Testament greats who also lived out their faith in God: Gideon, a weakling from the weakest family in the weakest tribe, obliterated a huge Midianite army with just 300 men plus God. Some of those listed—like Samson and Barak–were not as faith-filled as others, but all allowed God to use them to accomplish His purposes.

Ultimately, they knew they could trust in God and they acted on that belief.

This kind of faith is not just a belief statement of faith, but it is belief in action (Faith or pistuo in the New Testament Greek, is not just a noun but it is also a verb, as in faithing). We don’t just have faith, but we do faith. We live it out. Oh My!

At the end of our Hebrews passage, the writer reminds us that we are …surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. Hold it, hold it! Shouldn’t that word be crowd not cloud? Well, who are we to argue words with God? And think about the imagery of cloud in Scripture. It’s a theophany, a sign of God’s presence. The Israelites in the wilderness were led by a cloud, God’s presence, during the day. When they saw the cloud move out, they packed up their tents and followed it. When Moses went up Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments, he disappeared into a cloud because God was there. Jesus, on the Mount of Transfiguration, was enveloped by a cloud and also shone with blinding light—both signs of God’s presence. So a company of saints who have gone before us–along with God, Himself–are watching us from heaven. Are we going to be a faithful like the heroes of Hebrews 11? Will they exclaim, “Praise God!” or “Oh My!” over us?

Alternatively, the passage could mean, these folks all witnessed to us by the ways they lived their lives. They are models for us of how to live a life that exudes faith. Coach Bobby Bowden, the now deceased former coach of the Florida State Seminoles, used to respond to critics calling them “Play Station All Americans.” He meant that it was easy to play a football video game and think you were good enough to call plays. However, experience with video games does not quite equate with live experience on the field. This great cloud of witnesses were not armchair believers, but they put feet to their faith.

Notice that writer to the Hebrews then encourages us to (12:1-2) …throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the Author and Perfector of our faith. We don’t want to allow anything to get in the way of our trust, our belief, our ”faithing” in Jesus. We want to be as trusting as any of those commemorated here.

Let’s now focus on how the Hebrews passage relates to today’s Gospel, Luke 12:49-56.

Jesus first talks about what our faith can cost us: It can and does divide us from our non-believing culture. There are times we clearly may feel out of step with what is going on around us. It is because we walk to the beat of a different drummer, Jesus Christ. Our faith may also divide us from those of our families who choose not to believe in Him. Nearly all of us can cite example of relatives who cannot or will not accept that Jesus is Lord. It introduces a painful separation. It can and does result in differences in the way we speak and in the ways we act—to such a degree that it can even be uncomfortable to be around each other. They may write us off as “Bible-thumpers,” “fanatics,” and “holier than thou” people. Or, worse yet, they may believe we are intolerant or bigoted.

Then Jesus goes on to tell them (and us) to be aware of signs that are important. They and we can sometimes interpret weather patterns. We know that dark clouds gather and the wind picks up just before it storms. A green sky and funnel clouds mean tornadoes are coming. The calm following a hurricane’s wind and rain does not mean the danger is past—just that they eye of the storm is overhead—and we have a blessed breather.

Jesus is not unhappy that we recognize the meanings of these kinds of signs. He just wants us to be able to also interpret the signs of the times as well (social and spiritual). Some examples of these include the following:

1.) The FBI raids a former president’s home—regardless of party affiliation. Politically, it appears to be an attempt to discredit and invalidate a political enemy. Spiritually it is motivated by anger, rage, the desire for revenge, and the urge to gain more power.

2.) The culture chides us to honor transgender athletes, then refuses to listen to a father who does not want his little girl undressing in the same locker room with an older male turned female. This practice is said to be about equal rights for transgender persons, a tiny minority (1%) in America today. However, it violates the rights to privacy and safety of our children and threatens to eliminate girls sports as we know it. Few girls can compete successfully against the larger stature and musculature of a male turned female. Spiritually, it is an attack on the family and on our children’s well-being.

3.) I have said before that the Progressive Agenda ultimately desires to replace our democratic republic with a form of communism. It is Marxist at its basic foundational principles. It is anti-Christian. If it’s so great a form of government, why do people try to escape it? Think of this: There is no place on earth, ever, where this form of government has led to freedom for the majority. Folks always say, “this time, we will do it better.” But remember God inspired Jeremiah to say (17:19) the heart is deceitful above all things; by this our Lord means we can and will justify anything we want to do. Pair this with what the British Lord Acton said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Together these two truths strongly state that probably only a perfect person, like Jesus, could be in total control of a country and not become an oppressor. Progressive ideology is a front for a Satan-inspired dictatorship.

Jesus asks us to look beyond the face-value of an event and view it from what it demonstrates—or plays out—socially and societally. What are its ramifications? He also wants us to consider what it means from a spiritual standpoint.

Our faith, unshakable faith lived out day to day, is our strongest bulwark against the rigid control and savage excesses of a socialist or communist regime. Who do communists take out when they first take-over a country? Pastors, preachers, and Christian leaders are told they can cooperate, or they will be killed. Next, educated persons, innovators, “the intelligencia,” are eliminated. After that, those in power believe they can control the rest. Take this from a former Government and U.S. History teacher, this same set of tactics has been replayed in all totalitarian movements of the past century.

Jesus warns us to be aware. We are not just to notice weather signs. But also to examine current events and detect the social and spiritual implications that lie within and behind them.

Then what are we to do? (1) We pray for our country and our leaders, as we have been. (2) We cast our votes in elections and vote out the selfish, the greedy, and those who disrespect God, our country, and us. (3) We ask the Lord to intervene in our country, transform our leaders, and to bring our hearts—as a nation–back to Christ. And, (4) like the great cloud of witnesses, we trust in the Lord to guide us and protect us, come what may. Oh my! May it be so!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams