When Rule-Breaking is Justified

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 21, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 1:4-10; Ps 71:1-6; Heb 12:14-29; Lk 13:10-17

The story is told about… “Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII, was called by adoring New Yorkers ‘the Little Flower’ because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.

“Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor.” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.” LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions–ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: ‘Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.’ So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.”

(Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Multnomah, 1990, pp 91-2.)

This is a story of grace in action, isn’t it? The mayor exacted the lawful penalty, paid it himself–just as God has done for us through the saving work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Then, by fining each person present 50 cents, he made everyone aware of the fact that no one should have to starve in NYC. It was a wise move by an elected official. It makes me wish we had more persons like him as mayors in big cities today. He didn’t break the rule; instead he enforced it and took it a step beyond.

In our Gospel lesson today (Luke 13:10-17), Jesus demonstrates for us a criterion for when rule-breaking is justified.

The Gospels mention 5 healings by Jesus on the Sabbath:

1.) The first (Luke 4:31+; Mark1:21+) is of a demon-possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum. Interestingly enough, the demons recognize that Jesus is the Son of God. He has to tell them to hush, as He sends them out of the guy. Everyone present is amazed at His power to heal and His authority over demons (the supernatural realm).

2.) The 2nd (Luke 6:6+; also recounted in Matthew and Mark), Jesus heals a man with a withered right hand. Again, the people are delighted; but, by now, the Scribes and Pharisees are feeling threatened by Jesus and are looking to discredit Him for violating their interpretation of what it means to keep the Sabbath holy. This time before healing the man, Jesus asks, Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it? He had just asserted in verse 6, The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath [He is uniquely qualified to establish and interpret the law]. Now He equates healing with doing good and saving life. It is alright to break the Sabbath rule about not working when it involves healing a person. He has challenged their interpretation of what can be done on the Sabbath and this infuriates the religious establishment.

3.) 3rd, John 5:1-18 the man at the Pool of Bethesda or Bethsaida. The religious officials do not see Jesus heal the man—remember He said, Get up! Pick up your mat and walk. Instead, they bust him, the man who had been an invalid for 38 years, for working on the Sabbath. Carrying his mat was construed by them as doing work. He tells them he is just doing as he had been told. They want to know who healed him, but he doesn’t know. He later learns it was Jesus and “rats Him out.” Such ingratitude!

4.) The 4th account is recorded for us in today’s Gospel. The poor woman has been bent over for 18 years. Did she have severe scoliosis? Or a bad bend like a “Widow’s Hump” from osteoporosis? We don’t know the nature of the affliction, but we can become quite vividly aware of what this would be like. Stand up, bend over half way, and take a minute to notice what this feels like. If you were out in public, you would not be able to see peoples’ faces. Your behind is pointed up, which would leave you feeling very vulnerable. And, just like with people in wheelchairs, you might be overlooked or dismissed due to your shortened stature. I once flew to a conference with a fellow named David who was wheel-chair bound. He had a Labrador named Zeus as his PAWS service dog. Zeus wore a small saddle with a handle by which he could tow David when the man tired. Whenever we approached an airline gate, I noted that the attendants usually spoke to me rather than David. He would then speak up and say, “I am right here and can respond to you about me,” to redirect them to his status as an adult.

In our Gospel lesson today, the Synagogue ruler is indignant: He insists, “Today is for worship; healing can take place the other 6 days of the week.” Jesus then addresses everyone who agrees (v.15) You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham who Satan has kept bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her? Her condition cries out for a healing, which Jesus graciously provides. Again, the rule can be broken when doing so might promote someone being healed.

The conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities now intensifies as (v.17) The people were delighted with all of the wonderful things He was doing. But the synagogue ruler and however many Pharisees and scribes were present … were humiliated.

5.) The 5th and last Sabbath healing occurs when Jesus is dining at a Pharisee’s house (Luke 14:1-6) A man with “dropsy” (accumulation of fluid in the legs; Elephantiasis?) appears. Before He acts, Jesus asks, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? As any good teacher would do, He is reviewing with them what they may have learned. He is asking, “Have we learned anything new about how we apply the rules for Sabbath-keeping? Have your hearts changed at all?” The answer is “crickets.” They respond with silence. Jesus then heals the man and asks, If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out? Again, they do not answer. There was provision in the rules for such a rescue. Their Sabbath rules permitted loosing/untying a bound animal on the Sabbath so it could access water. However, Jesus knows their hearts are hard and that they are opposed to Him and to His teaching. I believe the man may have been a set-up, which Jesus would have ascertained.

Notice that Jesus acts compassionately, anyway. Like Jeremiah, called to preach an exceedingly unpopular message to Jerusalem (“Repent! The end is coming!”)—Jesus is now healing at his own peril. Don’t you admire His courage? They are even now plotting against Him, but He continues to go about doing the will of His Father.

Let’s look again at the Bent-Over Woman: She doesn’t approach Jesus. She’s been miserable and perhaps in pain for a long, long time.

Nevertheless, Jesus calls her forward (Remember, Rabbis typically did not speak to women). But Jesus participated in a theological discussion with the unnamed woman at the well (John 4:1-41); spared the unnamed woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11); and forgave the unnamed woman who washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). I believe these women are un-named because the Lord wants us to identify with them. Jesus correctly recognizes that she is crippled due to demonic activity. He has authority over the demonic, so He touches her and speaks a rhema healing word to set her free. In the original Greek text, this is a play on words: Satan has bound her but Jesus loosed her.

He uses a style of rabbinic argument they would have recognized if you would do this for your animals (the lesser) than why not for a person, a daughter of Abraham (the greater)? They are not logical in their zeal for the letter of the Law. They have let their focus on upholding the Law obscure their love for a neighbor. They have let their jealousy and envy of Jesus’ power blind them to the spirit of the Law. They seemed to have missed that God, the Lord of the Sabbath, sometimes works on the Sabbath.

People can still be bent over today due to disease, right? But what else keeps people bound? Habitual sins like alcoholism; drug-addiction; pornography and sex addiction; and choosing the pursuit of money, power, fame, etc, over pursuing God.

What is our response to them supposed to be? Respond with the compassion of Christ. Like the former mayor of NYC, we can keep the law but also exhibit compassion. Like Jesus, who created the Law, we may break a rule to mend a broken life. This week, look for any opportunities God sets before you to demonstrate compassion. Take the risk of being rejected or of looking foolish. You may be used by God to utter healing words. You may be used by God to demonstrate love to the unloved or unlovely (what Jesus called …the least of these). By doing so, you might just save someone’s eternal life.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

In The Master’s Hand

Pastor Sherry’s message for 5/1/2022

scriptures: Acts 9:1-20; Ps 30; Rev. 5:11-14; Jn 21:18-30

I want to share with you a poem from 1921, written by the American poet, Myra Brooks Welch, entitled, “The Touch of the Master’s hand’:

‘Twas battered and scarred and the auctioneer

Thought it scarcely worth his while

To waste much time on the old violin,

But he held it up with a smile:

“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,

“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”

“A dollar, a dollar; then Two! Only two?

Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?

Three dollars once; three dollars, twice;

Going for three—.” but no,

From the back of the room, far back, a gray-haired man

Came forward and picked up the bow;

Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,

And tightening up the loose strings,

He played a melody pure and sweet

As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,

With a voice that was quiet and low,

Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”

And he held it up with the bow.

“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?

Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?

Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice,

And going, and gone,” said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,

“We do not quite understand.

What changed its worth.” Swift came the reply:

“The touch of a master’s hand.”

And many a man with life out of tune,

And battered and scarred with sin,

Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,

Much like the old violin.

A “mess of pottage” [soup or stew], a glass of wine;

A game—and he travels on.

He is “going once,” and “going” twice,

He’s “going” and almost “gone.”

But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd

Never can quite understand

The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought

By the touch of the Master’s hand.

Like the old violin, our value is enhanced—and our lives straightened out– when we place ourselves in the hands of our Master, Jesus Christ.

Our Scripture passages today give us several illustrations of what can happen to people who entrust themselves to Jesus’ transforming care:

Our Acts passage (9:1-20) relates the events in Paul’s conversion from being an enemy of Christ, Saul, to becoming His Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul. Since the events we addressed last Sunday, the 11 apostles have been operating out of Jerusalem: They have been active, teaching, preaching, and healing. They have added a replacement for Judas (Matthias); they also decided to add “deacons” to give the apostles time to pray, teach, and heal. The new converts have been meeting together, worshipping, breaking bread, sharing resources, studying God’s word–until Deacon Stephen was arrested and stoned to death (Chapter 8). Now Saul was present at Stephen’s martyrdom. This event culminates in an increased persecution of new followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, who then scatter out from the city, seeking safety elsewhere.

One of them, Philip, leaves to evangelize the Samaritans–and also encounters the Ethiopian Eunuch–and the faith begins to spread to North Africa. And recently (on Easter Sunday), we read about how Peter was directed by the Holy Spirit to disciple the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, in Caesarea, a faith-inroad into the Roman Empire. The Good News of Jesus Christ has begun to spread from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, and Saul/Paul is going to take it to other Gentiles–the beginning of …to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). When we first encounter Saul, he was an extremely zealous Hebrew who thought Christ’s followers were heretics. In his zeal for the One True God, he was committed to wipe out “the Way.” He had grown up reciting the Shema daily, (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. The Shema assumes a single-minded devotion to one God. Saul did not believe that God had a Son, Jesus; and in his study of Scripture, he missed the references to the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, he got the OK from the Sanhedrin to arrest any Christians he found in Damascus, in present day Syria. Damascus is 150 miles N of Jerusalem (in that day, a 4-6 day journey). Those motivated to wipe out the infant Church knew Damascus was strategic because it had formed around the crossroads of several major East-West and North-South trade routes. The enemies of Jesus realized that once Christianity flourished there, it wouldn’t be long before it led to conversions all over the empire.

But, on his way to Damascus, Saul encounters Jesus! Verses 3-4 tell us suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul has to be shocked and stunned! He’s blinded by bright light, a sign of God since only God…dwells in unapproachable light whom no one has seen or can see (1 Timothy 6:16). He hears his name called twice, a Hebrew literary device for emphasis. Saul, knowing he is in the presence of the divine, asks (v.5), Who are you Lord? Jesus answers him, I am Jesus, whom you are now persecuting (v.6). Jesus then directs him to go into the city where he will be told what comes next. He has lost his sight, so he has to be led to the home of someone called Judas who lives on Straight Street. According to verse 9, He was unable to see for 3 days; and he neither ate nor drank anything, which implies he was fasting and praying. Notice he doesn’t get angry with God, but resorts to prayer to discern God’s will. Then, through a Christian named Ananias, Jesus tells Saul that God has declared, (vv.15-16) This man [Saul/Paul] is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show Him how much he must suffer for my name. Ananias then confers on Saul the Holy Spirit for ministry; Saul’s sight is restored; and he agrees to be baptized.

The next thing we know (v.20), Saul began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. What an amazing transformation! What a radical turn-around of a single life in the hands of our Lord, Jesus Christ! In the Master’s hands, we can be directed, redirected, and empowered to do…immeasurably more that all we ask or imagine! (Ephesians 3:20).

The same phenomenon is reported in Psalm 30. King David recounts how, due to the Master’s grace and mercy, he has moved from sickness to health; mourning to gladness; silence to praise. He had been seriously sick. Perhaps he had some variant of the Covid? He pleads for his life, saying (v.9) What gain is there in my destruction [in my death], in my going down into the pit [grave]? Will the dust praise You [my dead body]? Will it proclaim Your faithfulness? David is pleading for his life, reminding God that he needs to remain alive to continue to praise Him. God apparently heals him and he celebrates God’s goodness. In the Master’s hands, despite our trials, we come to a place of rejoicing!

In our Gospel lesson, John 21:18-30, Jesus has just restored Peter 3 times to reverse or redeem his 3 denials. Then He goes on to predict how Peter will die (crucified, upside-down), and reiterates His command, Follow Me! Jesus wants Peter to entrust himself to Him. But in a way so characteristic of all of us, Peter looks around, sees John, and says, But what about him? Jesus doesn’t reveal John’s future. Essentially, He tells Peter it’s none of his business. And John, the author of the 4th Gospel, attests that all he has written of Jesus is true, though only a portion of all the things He said and did. In the Master’s hand, we are restored, sometimes rebuked, and generally always redirected.

What is revealed in our Revelation lesson (5:11-14), however, is the scope of worship in the heavenly throne room. God the Father and Jesus, the Lamb of God, are seated on the throne. And everyone rejoices and sings praises to God: Every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and on the sea worships God–even the 4 Seraphim and the 24 elders. As I preached last week, we are created to worship and to enjoy God. When we do, one payoff is that we will be included in that heavenly service. (Maybe we will even learn in heaven all the stories and healings and miracles John and the other three gospels did not include.)

We sing like that old violin at the auction when we experience the touch of the Master’s hand. Who we are as persons is enhanced because Jesus Christ brings out our very best when we place ourselves in His hands. There is no better place to be. Thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia, alleluia!

©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 Kiss of God

Pastor Sherry’s message for 2/13/2022

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

The following story comes from an anonymous source:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. James, His brother;

5. and finally, the Apostle Paul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Believe in Jesus.

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

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

PASSING MARKS

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 10, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Who’s On First?

Pastor Sherry’s message for 8/1/2021

Scriptures: 2 Sam 11:26-12:13a; Ps 51; Eph 4:1-16; Jn 6:24-35

    I’m dating myself, now, but do any of you remember a comedy routine by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello called “Who’s on first”?  The premise is that Bud [the smart, serious guy] is trying to explain the location of the baseball players—Who, What, and I Don’t Know–to Lou [the less smart but funny one]:

        Lou:  Who’s on first [base]?

        Bud: Yes, Who’s on first.

        Lou: That’s what I want to know, who’s on first?

        Bud: Exactly, Who’s on first.

        Lou (by now getting exasperated):  That’s what I want to know. What’s the fella’s name on first?

        Bud:  No, no.  What’s on second, Who’s on first.

        Lou (now pulling his hair, getting angry):  Let’s try something different.  Who’s on third?

        Bud:  No, no, no.  Who’s on 1st.  I Don’t’ Know’s on 3rd.

        Lou (now angrily shouting): If you don’t know, who does?

        Bud: Yes, Who knows, he’s the captain.

        And it continues as Lou gets increasingly upset and confused.

    This famous comedy routine is somewhat reminiscent of our Gospel lesson today, John 6:24-35.  It appears that Jesus, and some spokespersons from the crowd following Him, are talking from completely different perspectives/understandings. The crowd wants another free meal. But Jesus is not so much interested in feeding their bellies as He is in saving their souls.  It seems that Jesus and the crowd are speaking at cross-purposes with each other 

It’s just like the woman at the well (John 4:1-26). Jesus offers her “living water,” which she assumes means flowing [not stagnant] water. She’d like a private source of water that was clean and not algae-infested. Then she wouldn’t have to fill her pail at the public well and encounter the women who taunt her about her lifestyle. Like Lou in “Who’s on first,” she isn’t getting it. Jesus is actually offering her something better than clean water; He is offering her eternal life.

    The same is true of the Pharisee, Nicodemus, in John 3:1-18.  He is puzzled about what Jesus means by “rebirth,” thinking Jesus is requiring him to re-enter his mother’s womb as an adult.  Instead, Jesus is instructing him in what it takes to enter God’s Kingdom:  belief in Jesus as God’s Son.

    How patient our God is with them and with us.  Jesus is concerned foremost with our salvation—our deepest spiritual need; while they and we so often are more concerned with our physical and relational needs—hunger, thirst, healing, restored relationships, etc. 

    Let’s try to enter into God’s perspective on what’s most important in our lives by looking at our Gospel and our Old Testament readings:

    In John 6: 24-35, the crowd follows Jesus in order to obtain more food.  But He wants them to know that He is the Bread of Life.  They don’t get it.  They want to know what they must do to be fed.  Who’s on first?

They and we don’t have to do anything to be fed spiritually except to believe in Jesus.  It’s a free gift, but they can’t take that in.

So they ask for a sign. They’ve just had a sign. Jesus fed anywhere from 5,000-15,000 from next to nothing, the multiplication miracle I preached about last week. They want to see Him do it again. They ask him, How about producing manna, like Moses did? Jesus tells them that God, not Moses, was responsible for the manna. Now, God has sent His Son, Jesus. Manna sustained the Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus knows what they really need is the true manna, God’s spiritual provision, in Jesus—which will sustain them eternally

    The question then strikes me, How much proof do we need?  Will another miracle be the event that tips us, them, into belief?  They had the Old Testament as their Scripture; we have the Old and the New.  What else do we need?  Often we need a personal experience of Christ, reaching inot our lives.  They have just witnessed Jesus feeding a horde of folks from 5 small loaves and two small fish.  He is not going to perform for them like a trained seal.  They need to realize that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is the Living Water, the Manna from Heaven, the Only Way to the Father.  He is our Salvation!

    Our Old Testament Lesson, 2 Sam 11:26-12:13a, provides such a great example of why we need Jesus.  You may remember from last week that King David has sinned by 

        1.) Coveting and entering into an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife;

        2.) And by arranging for Uriah’s death when she becomes pregnant by David.

    Though his sins are state secrets, several of the psalms he penned tell us he has not really gotten off scott-free.  Only Bathsheba, the servants who David sent to gather her, and Joab, his general, know of his treachery, and they are not talking!  They know he could have them arrested and executed.  Nevertheless, King David feels wretched.  Several of the psalms he wrote, including today’s psalm, Psalm 51, tell of his great, private shame, remorse, and misery: (v.4) For I know my transgressions, and my sin in always before me.  In Psalm 31:10, he wrote—My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.  Similarly in Psalm 32:3–When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  We would say the Holy Spirit has brought him under conviction and he is suffering the resulting emotional anguish.

The only One who knows–besides those who refuse to talk—is the Lord. Notice that God does not abandon King David to his sin. Instead, He sends the brave prophet, Nathan, to call him to account. Nathan tells David a story about a poor man taken advantage of by a rich man. David, thinking this is a report about someone in his kingdom, is outraged! He wants the rich man brought to justice! So Nathan confronts him (v.7)—You are the man! The story was only a metaphor. Nathan conveys God’s disappointment in David. God had given him so much. The Lord has in fact “blessed his socks off!” But David’s sinful actions convey to God that he lacks gratitude to and has contempt for the Lord. (What a novel way to consider sin: Our sins show our contempt for God. YIKES!)

    David has 3 choices in the way he could respond:

        1.) He could deny his sin altogether—as they do in DC today;

        2.) He could have Nathan executed—as any despot would;

        3.) Or he could admit the truth.

This is how King David is a man after God’s own heart:  He admits his sin, he repents, and he asks God to forgive and restore him.

    Remember, this is a saga from the Old Testament.  It predates the saving work of Jesus Christ.  God graciously forgives David and Bathsheba, but He does not prevent the grave consequences of David’s sin from affecting him.  Notice the boomerang effect of the Law of Sowing and Reaping:

        1.) The child born to Bathsheba, a firstborn son, dies after birth (his death for a death?).

        2.) Later, one of David’s other sons, Amnon, covets and rapes his beautiful step-sister, Tamar (a sexual sin—rape–for a sexual sin–adultery). 

        3.) Absalom, Tamar’s full brother, kills Amnon in revenge (another death for a death).

        4.) Still later, Absalom will try to wrest the throne from David (lawlessness and rebellion against David for lawlessness and rebellion against God).

As God proclaims through the prophet Nathan, (v.16)—Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised Me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own. 

Psalm 51, is David’s great plea to be made right with God again, and is such a great model for us to follow when we sin. First, he makes it very clear that he regrets what he has done. Second, he admits that he knows what God requires of him. Third, he states his conviction, his faith, that God can forgive and renew him: Verse 7–Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Verse 10–Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Verse 17–The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

    David begs for God’s forgiveness and God grants it.

    What would our Lord want us to learn from these passages? We too can get at cross-purposes with God when we come to Him always and only to meet our physical or emotional needs.  First and foremost, He is concerned with our spiritual life.  He wants to save us.  He wants our trust, our love, and our obedience.

God’s greatest concern is that we draw close to Him. When we sin and cut ourselves off from Him, what are we to do? Like King David, we want to confess our sins to God. Like King David, we want to ask for God’s forgiveness. Thanks be to God that we don’t have to worry about who’s on first. Jesus Christ, our outstanding Coach, has all the bases covered.

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

God’s Math

Pastor Sherry’s message for 7/25/2021

Scriptures: 2 Sam 11:1-15; Ps 14; Eph 3:14-21; Jn 6:1-21

Last week, I shared about the ministry of Mother Theresa, one of my “Heroes of the Faith.” This week, I want to mention another: Heidi Baker. She and her husband, Rolland, are both Pentecostal pastors with Ph.D.’s in Theology from the London School of Theology. They are also missionaries with a heart for orphans and the poor. While praying one day, God had told Heidi that He was “giving them Mozambique”–which was, at the time, one of the poorest nations in the world. Heidi and Rolland have been living and serving in Mozambique, Africa, since 1995. She and Rolland house, feed, and educate orphan children. She has become a noted speaker and “the public face” of their ministry. Her method in Mozambique has been to train up children to pray for others. She teaches them to pray: They pray for the deaf to hear, and they do. They pray for the blind to see, and they do. They pray for the paralyzed to walk, and they do. She claims that God has raised over 100 people from the dead, through the prayers of her various prayer teams.

In this destitute country, God has worked thru her and her husband to establish schools; provide medical clinics; distribute food; drill wells; and provide physically and spiritually for over 3,000 orphans. The Bakers have raised up many indigenous pastors and have planted somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 Christian congregations in mozambique!

One of my favorite stories from her ministry is about a “multiplication miracle.” A woman from Texas was visiting with the Bakers and offered to fix them dinner. She prepared a wonderful meal for 5, Heidi, Rolland, their two children, and herself. When she called the Bakers in to eat, Heidi expressed initial dismay at the small quantity as they always fed their 250 orphans whenever they ate. Heidi immediately suggested they pray for more food, then she told the woman to keep ladling out food from the pots as the plates kept coming. The woman was amazed to discover the pots never emptied. The Lord had multiplied her dinner until all the children and adults present received food. (See her book, Compelled by Love, to read about this story and others.) Wouldn’t it have strengthened your faith to have witnessed that?

Our Gospel for today focuses one of Jesus’ multiplication miracles, the feeding of the 5,000 from John 6:1-21 (also recounted in the other three gospels). John tells us (v.4) the Passover Feast was near. Jesus is not in Jerusalem; rather, He is preaching and teaching in Galilee. As I shared last week, a huge crowd had followed Him. In His compassion, He knows they are hungry. Perhaps recalling the Exodus and Numbers about the daily manna from heaven, as well as Elijah’s encounter with the Widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-24), Jesus tests the disciples, asking them where they might find bread (and meat) for the crowd to eat. A correct answer would have been, “Lord, you know,” or “Lord, You are able to provide. But instead of thinking of heavenly possibilities, they focus on the earthly realities. Philip and Andrew seem set on problem-solving. They assert in verse 7 that the group lacks the money to buy enough; but they also point out in verse 8 that they have inventoried the current supply and found some small provisions—5 hamburger-sized loaves and 2 small, dried fish–insufficient for the numbers of folks present

Rev. Dr. J. Vernon McGee (p.99 of his commentary on John) says the 12 desired to become Jesus’ Board of Directors, and thus formed a committee to look into the problem. McGee and others have defined a church committee as “a group of people who individually can do nothing, but collectively they decide nothing can be done” (Not my experience at WUMC). He also claims a church committee is “a group of people who take down minutes and waste hours.” Sure enough, the committee report is that feeding 5,000 men (approximately 15,000, if we conservatively add in 1 woman and 1 child per each male) is impossible. They recommend to Jesus that He send them home. They have resolved the issue without considering God’s maththe mathematics of a miracle.

Jesus resolves the problem in a way reminiscent of the Old and New Testament multiplication miracles: He provides for them abundantly, passing out more than enough bread and fish to go around. Just like at the wedding in Cana, where He turned 6 large jars of water into 100 gallons of the finest wine. Just like with the manna and quail in the desert, plenty for 1-2 million people, every day for 40 years! Just like with Elijah and the widow, enough oil and flour to make bread until the famine ended.

Jesus turns His wanna-be Board of Directors into a wait-staff. He has them distribute fish sandwiches to groups seated on the grounds. Then, in a wonderful display of God’s abundant provision, He has them pick up the left overs. Now we must bear in mind that these folks were not usually well-fed.

Given free food, you can imagine that they would have eaten their fill. Instead of gathering up bites left on their plates, they collected 12 baskets full of what were probably whole sandwiches. Again, as J. Vernon McGee says, “I tell you, if you have the 5 loaves plus the 2 fish plus Jesus, then you’ve got something, Friend. Without Him, you don’t have anything at all.”

Our God is a God of abundance. He desires to bless us, extravagantly.

Before we get carried away, however, let’s remember there are limits to God’s efforts to bless. These limits often arise from our own sin and our rejection of Him. This is the point, I think, of our Old Testament lesson today from 2 Samuel 11:1-15. Up to this point in 2nd Samuel, we have encountered David’s triumphs:

1.) Anointed King as a successor to Saul;

2.) Killing the giant, Goliath, in battle;

3.) Successfully eluding Saul’s jealous and zealous pursuit of him;

4.) Finally uniting all 12 tribes under his leadership;

5.) Subduing the enemies of Israel; and

6.) Bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, his capital.

Now we see him plunge into trouble, the first act of a cascade of subsequent heartbreaks.

In what may have been a midlife crisis, David does not go off to battle against his lone unsubdued enemy, the Ammonites. He sends the army ahead without him. At home in his palace, he appears to be restless and bored. Rather than take his troubles to God, or ask what he might do to better his people, he takes a walk at night on his rooftop. From this height, he sees the lovely, we-presume-naked-Bathsheba, bathing on her rooftop. Rooftops were cool at night; perhaps she was trying to escape the heat. Where were her privacy screens? Now David has several other wives at this point (he is approximately 40YO), but he sees her and lusts after her.

Do you notice the connection between wealth, power, and boredom here? It has been my observation that the evil one uses this toxic combination to lead many into sexual sin. Look at the fall of Rome. Consider Jeffrey Epstein’s “Lolita Express” in which rich, powerful men—like Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, and unnamed others–flew to an isolated Caribbean island to engage in illicit sexual activities with under-aged girls. The king summons Bathsheba to his palace and begins an affair with her. He is married, several times over. And so is she. Her husband is Uriah, a Hittite believer and one of David’s “Mighty Men” (body guards). Scholars also believe she was the daughter of another of his Mighty Men, Eliam. The couple’s actions thus hurt a number of people and seriously offend God. In one night, given moods of boredom and dissatisfaction, David sins colossally. He breaks the 6th, 7th, 9th and 10th commandments.

He also misuses his God-given powers as king. He sent for Bathsheba. Was she a willing participant? Possibly, but we don’t know for sure. She becomes pregnant. Scripture is clear (v.4) that she was not impregnated by her husband, as her monthly cycle had just ended. Now David feels forced to mount a sophisticated cover-up.

Notice that God includes David’s (and Bathsheba’s) moral failure in Scripture. God neither denies it, excuses it, nor pretties it up. God desires to use it as instruction for us. As our Psalm (14) says, Only a fool believes there is no God. David authored this psalm. He knows that God is omniscient, all seeing, all knowing. But like so many of us when we embark on sin, he isn’t thinking of God’s response. Nevertheless, God sees and knows and holds David accountable.

Because we are in Christ, as Paul asserts in Ephesians 3:14-21, we are covered by His righteousness. This is great, good news! Unlike with King David, the penalty for our sins has been taken on for us by Jesus. The penalty for both David and Bathsheba was death. Because we believe in Jesus, however, we are spared. What we may not be able to dodge, though, is the Law of Sowing and Reaping. We reap what we sow. We are subject to the ripple-effect of our sins. I could be wrong, but, as I see it, the consequences of our sins often boomerang back upon us. As the culture puts it, “What goes around comes around.” We steal from someone, someone then later steals from us. We betray someone, someone later betrays us, etc. We might say that sin ripples are often a form of subtraction.

This week, let’s focus our attention on God’s multiplication. As with Mother Theresa and with Heidi and Rolland Baker, God wants to bless us. Let’s try not to fall into sin, but if we do, let’s be quick to repent and ask God’s forgiveness. We want to experience God’s blessings, not the adverse consequences of our poor choices. Let’s ask God the Holy Spirit to help us and let’s remember, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 3:20, our God…is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine….

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Dangers of Pride

Pastor Sherry’s message for Jul 11, 2021

Scriptures: 2 Sam 6:1-23; Ps 24; Eph 1:3-14; Mk 6:14-29

Last week, we looked at what Scripture had to say about humility…about how frustration and disappointment—if we will depend upon God–can teach us patience, deepen our faith, and develop our character. This week, as the Lord would have it, our readings demonstrate how our God deals with pride, the opposite of humility.

The following are three illuminating stories of pride:

1. There is a fable of two ducks and a frog who lived together happily in a farm pond. The three were the best of friends. When the hot, dry days of August and September came, however, their pond began to shrink, and it soon became evident they would have to move. This was no problem for the ducks, who could easily fly to another, bigger pond, but the frog was out of luck. One of them developed the bright idea to put a stick in the bill of each duck that the frog could hang onto with his mouth as they flew to another pond. The plan worked well, so well, in fact, that–as they were flying along–a farmer looked up in admiration and mused, “Well, isn’t that a clever idea! I wonder who thought of it?” The frog said, “I did….” Poor frog! Taking credit for the idea led to his death! If he’d kept his mouth shut, he might have survived.

2. During the Battle of the Wilderness in the Civil War, Union general John Sedgwick was inspecting his troops. At one point he came to a parapet in the fort, over which he gazed out in the direction of the enemy. His officers suggested that this was unwise and perhaps he ought to duck while visible to the enemy. “Nonsense,” snapped the general. “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist–.” A moment later Sedgwick fell to the ground, fatally wounded. This General was arrogant. His prideful dismissal of his subordinates’ wisdom cost him his life.

3. Finally, A young woman asked for an appointment with her pastor to talk with him about a habitual sin about which she was worried. When she saw him, she said, “Pastor, I have become aware of a sin in my life which I cannot control. Every time I am at church I begin to look around at the other women, and I realize that I am the prettiest one in the whole congregation. None of the others can compare with my beauty. What can I do about this sin?” The pastor replied, “Mary, that’s not a sin, why that’s just a mistake!” The young woman had developed “the big head” about her looks. She was blinded by her pride and failed to consider that she might not have been, as they say, “all that.”

Some well-known proverbs reveal to us what God thinks of our pride:

1. Proverbs 16:18 Pride goes before destruction [certainly true of the frog and the general], a haughty spirit before a fall [true of the young woman].

2. Proverbs 19:23 A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit [a humble man] gains honor.

3. Isaiah 25:11 Speaking of one of Israel’s enemies, the prophet announces, God will bring down their pride despite the cleverness of their hands.

Our Scripture passages today reveal more about how God responds to the proud (and to the humble):

A. Our Old Testament reading, 2 Samuel 6:1-23, describes King David’s two attempts to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Back in 1 Samuel 5, we learned that the Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant. This was a trunk-sized wooden box, made of acacia wood, and covered with gold. It is said to have been a foreshadowing of Christ. Its wood represented Jesus’ humanity; its gold, His divinity. Thus, the box signified God’s earthly throne or reign and His presence with His people (Immanuel, God with us). So when the Philistines captured it, they thought they had control over Israel’s God and thus over Israel.

But God had other ideas. When the Philistines put the Ark in the temple they had built to their god, Dagon, they were shocked to discover the first morning thereafter that the stature of Dagon had fallen on its face before the Ark. They set Dagon back upright only to discove, on the 2nd morning, that the idol had again fallen before the Ark, this time with its head and hands broken off. God was signifying to them that their idol was witless and powerless before Him.

Next, they tried placing the box in different Philistine cities. But each time, the citizens there broke out in a plague characterized by gross tumors all over the body; and the city was overrun by a horde of rats. Totally freaked out, these citizens would then rush the Ark to another city. In each of the 5 major Philistine cities, the same thing happened. Finally, the Philistines decided it was dangerous for them to hold onto the Hebrew “God-in-the-box.” Respectfully, they placed the box on a cart and let it loose. The cows pulling the Ark “miraculously” traveled back to Israel. Interestingly, the Philistines were not killed for the handling the Ark, due to their ignorance of Torah.

This is where we find ourselves in today’s passage King David wants to bring the Ark to Mt. Zion (highest point of Jerusalem, but with no Temple as yet). So, with all the best of intentions, he takes 30,000 men, 7 choirs, an orchestra and priests, and goes to retrieve the Ark. Obviously, he made of this a big deal. David recognizes that he reigns at the pleasure of God Himself. His government is less a monarchy than a theocracy, with God at the top. Thus, bringing the Ark to Jerusalem would indicate that the Lord was sovereign over both David and all the people.

Again, let’s remember that David’s intentions were the best.

But the way he went about it infuriated God. With our God, the end never justifies the means. The Ark had settled on the property of a man named Abinadab. King David brought a new cart and had Abinadab’s sons, Uzzzah and Ahio, guide the oxen. But, when it looked like ruts in the road might cause the Ark to slide off the cart, Uzzah put his hands on it and was killed…YIKES! Everyone was shocked! Their joyous worship immediately ceased! David is stunned and becomes angry at God. No doubt he experienced colossal embarrassment and humiliation. But he also lacked understanding: Just because he is king doesn’t give him license to approach God any old way! The Lord wants him to realize and model reverence to God the way God wants to be reverenced.

In his wounded pride, King David withdraws and sulks. The procession leaves the Ark at the farm of Obed-Edom—for 3 months–and retreats to Jerusalem. Thankfully, the king humbles himself and studies Scripture to learn from Torah how God desires His Ark to be approached. Maybe David reread Numbers 4:15 in which God gives His specific instructions re how to carry His Ark After Aaron and his sons [the high priest and priests at the time of the Exodus] have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites [Cohans] are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. Levites from the family of Kohan were to carry it. They were not to lay their hands on it, but to place poles through the rings on is corners, and carry those poles on their shoulders. God is not harsh, He is HOLY! There are right and wrong ways to approach Him. In other words, for the Israelites, ignorance of the Law is no excuse.

Notice, David pouts for a while, but he does not turn from God when he doesn’t understand His actions—he doesn’t let his pride get in the way of his relationship with the Lord. Instead, he humbles himself and tries to understand the Lord. So, after 3 months, David goes back to get the Ark. Notice what he does differently: He had the Ark carried as God required. After 6 steps, he had the procession stop and make an offering for their sins. He admitted his sin and the sins of the people. Hebrews 9:19-22 tells us that all true worship of God is predicated on sacrifice: David sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. (But we have Jesus, the once and for all perfect sacrifice for our sins…no more animal sacrifices, Praise God!) Then King David lead the procession, worshipping God with total abandon. Our psalm appointed for today was written by David to celebrate bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. By dancing, without his royal robes, He was showing his people that even their king humbled himself before the Lord.

However, his wife, Michal (Saul’s daughter), was scandalized!

Filled with pride, she judged her husband‘s behavior as demeaning and vulgar. But David would not be deterred, saying, (v.21) I will celebrate before the Lord. He apparently then separated himself from her, keeping her in the palace but never again visiting her. She died childless, an indication to the Hebrews of having not been blessed by God.

B. Let’s also consider the cost of pride in today’s Gospel, Mark 6:14-29. Herod Antipas, a Roman puppet and not a true believer, is serving as ruler of Judea. Believing enough to seek and dabble in religion, but not enough to commit or change the way he lives, he is respectful of, maybe even intimidated by, John the Baptist. His wife, Herodias, hates John the Baptist because he has publicly denounced them both as adulterers; and he has also called them to repent of their moral and leadership failures. Some scholars believe Herod may have had JtB arrested to protect him from his Herodias’ vengeance.

Nevertheless, she gets a chance to gain revenge when Herod makes a rash promise to her dancing daughter, the alluring Salome. Herod is so pleased with her performance that he offers her whatever she wants, up to ½ his kingdom. What a foolish boast! At Herodias’ advice, she asks for the head of JtB. What a senseless jam Herod has put himself in! He has sought to protect John from Herodias; but, if he rescinds his boast to Salome, he stands to lose face before his guests. In the choice between righteousness humility and foolish pride, he chooses pride. JtB is immediately beheaded,

Salome is later married off to Herod’s brother, her uncle—YUCK! This could have been quite the punishment. Finally, the Romans eventually banish Herodias and Herod to Gaul, the primitive outer-beyond of those times.

So what is our Lord telling us about pride through these Biblical folks? We want to avoid the dangers of pride because pride is costly. At best, it costs you your reputation, your influence, your marriage.

At worst, it can cost you your life. Ben Franklin, in his autobiography wrote, “There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”

We also want to recognize when we are acting out of pride, then apologize to God and humble ourselves. When we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, He will lift us up (James 4:10).

Honestly, most of us need the assistance, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to overcome our pride. But remember, King David got it and so can we!

©️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

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