The Miracle of Christmas

Pastor Sherry’s message for December 25, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 52:7-10; Ps 98; Heb 1:1-4; Jn 1:1-14

The story is told of a man who struggled to believe God would send His Son to earth to redeem us. The man said to himself, “There is no point to a God who becomes man,” he mused. “Why would an all-powerful God want to share even one of His precious moments with the likes of man? And even if He did, why would He choose to be born in an animal stall? No way! The whole thing is absurd! I’m sure that if God really wanted to come down to earth, He would have chosen some other way.”

“Suddenly, the man was roused from his reverie by a strange sound outside. He went to the window and saw a small gaggle of blue geese frantically honking and aimlessly flopping about in the snow. They seemed dazed and confused. Apparently they had dropped out in exhaustion from the flight formations of a larger flock on its way from the Arctic Islands to the warmer climes of the Gulf of Mexico. Moved to compassion, the man tried to “shoo” the poor geese into his warm garage, but the more he “shooed” the more they panicked.

“’If they only realized I’m only trying to do what’s best for them,” he thought to himself. “How can I make them understand my concern for their well-being?” Then, this thought came to him: “If for just a minute, I could become one of them, an ordinary goose, and communicate with them in their own language, they would know what I am trying to do.” And suddenly … suddenly, he remembered Christmas and a smile came over his face. Suddenly, the Christmas story no longer seemed absurd. Suddenly, he pictured that ordinary-looking infant, lying in the manger, in that stable in Bethlehem, and he knew the answer to his Christmas problem: God had become one of us to tell us that He loves us.“ (Borrowed from the TCM website, 12/19/2022, author’s name unknown.)

This Christmas illustration is meant to remind us of the real miracle of Christmas: That Jesus Christ—the sovereign King of the Universe, seated in heaven at the right hand of God the Father, the seat of power–would take on flesh and become one of us in order to speak our language/ to get through to us and to save us from destruction.

Our scripture lessons today leave no doubt that Christmas is a miracle:

A. The writer to the Hebrews (1:1-4) wants us to know that Jesus Christ is superior in position and power to all of the prophets who have lived and to all of the angels in heaven and on earth. Previously, God had spoken to humankind through prophets He ordained to convey His thoughts to us. Less often, He communicated through angelic beings who came with specific messages to particular persons. And, then He made His thoughts known to us through the 45 Holy-Spirit-inspired authors of the Old Testament written over 1500 years. But with the birth of Jesus, the Father has spoken to us through His Son, the full revelation of God: (v.3) The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His [the Father’s] being, sustaining of all things by His powerful word. Or, as Peterson paraphrases it in his The Message, By His Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God’s nature. He holds everything together by what He says—powerful words.

B. That theme of the power of The Word/the Divine Logos is spelled out for us in John 1:1-14.

First, let’s look at where John begins. Matthew and Luke each start with Jesus’ birth, Matthew from Joseph’s perspective and Luke, from Mary’s. Mark omits the birth narratives altogether and jumps into the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. But John starts with the beginning of time and space! Verse 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Before creation took place, Jesus was present. Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, was with God, distinct from the Father; but also, Jesus, the Word, was God, part of the same deity as the Father. Like the Father, Jesus is fully divine! Verse 2 He was with God in the beginningThe Father and the Son have always co-existed. The Son did not come into being at His incarnation. He, like the Father, has existed forever.

Verse 3 Through Him all things were made and without Him, nothing was made that has been made. John sometimes repeats things to help insure that we don’t miss his point. Jesus made everything. John knows Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He just does not want us to miss the fact that Jesus was present at Creation. You see, the Father conceived the plan; and the Son, the agent of creation, spoke it into existence. Jesus brought all things to life because He is the life-force (the way, the truth and the life, John 14:6)!

Verse 4 What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. John makes a word play, in the original Greek, on life and light. Spiritually speaking, Jesus’ life brings light into ours. Later, Jesus will say, I am the light of the world (John 8:12) and I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). So, as God He is both light and life, and willingly offers both to us.

Verse 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. He came to dispel the darkness, the darkness surrounding us today: unbelief, sin, death, oppression, bondage, violence, the power of evil. But because we have free will, some of us will miss His gift. Some of us will refuse to believe in Him. Some of us will continue to live in spiritual darkness.

Verse 10 But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God. Those of us who believe in Him are not His biological heirs, or heirs through any human effort, but we are spiritual children of God, through Christ’s blood and the Father’s plan. You see, those of us who have accepted God’s perfect gift—Jesus—receive another gift: the privilege to become daughters or sons of God.

As if that weren’t enough, (v.14)🡪The Word [Jesus] became flesh and made His dwelling among us! This is a total break from all non-Christian thought–the agent of Creation becomes a Creature! Jesus encased Himself in baby flesh and comes to earth as one of us. If I were in charge, I would have had Him come as a King or as a victorious general. But God, in His wisdom, has Him arrive as a vulnerable and totally dependent, nonthreatening babe.

There has never been—nor will there ever be–a human as important as Jesus Christ! He is fully God, and He is fully human. What a miracle!

C and D.Our final two readings look forward to Christ’s millennial reign on earth, His second coming. The Isaiah passage (52:7-10) speaks to what it will be like when what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer comes to passThy kingdom come. Jesus’ rule and reign on earth will be fabulous! Peace, justice, mercy, grace and forgiveness will characterize the behavior of all people. There will be no more wars, murders, illness, death, sexual assaults, human trafficking, slavery, injustice, lying, fraud, etc. Can you even imagine such a state? How wonderful! No wonder everyone will experience great joy!

Our Psalm too (98) celebrates the righteous reign of Christ. Verse 1 Sing to the Lord a new song for He has done marvelous things! The psalmist predicts how joyous celebration will begin in the congregation (Christian Church and Synagogue of Messianic believers); then it will spread to all humans; and finally will impact all of creation. Remember, God cursed the serpent and the ground at the Fall, but not the people. Paul tells us (Romans 8:20-22) For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it [God the Father], in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God [waiting on the Second Coming of Jesus Christ].

At His 2nd Coming, the Righteous Judge will set all things right. That is a miracle for which I can hardly wait!

So we say, “Happy Birthday, Lord Jesus, on this Christmas Day, 2022!” Thank you for taking on flesh and dwelling among us! Thank you for saving us from the penalty for our sins! Today,

“May our Christmas gifts remind us of God’s greatest gift, His only Son.
May our Christmas candles remind us of Him who is the “Light of the world.”
May our Christmas trees remind us of another tree upon which He died.
May our Christmas cheer remind us of Him who said, “Be of good cheer.”
May our Christmas feast remind us of Him who is “the Bread of Life.”
May our Christmas bells remind us of the glorious proclamation of His birth.
May our Christmas carols remind us of the Son of whom the angels sang, “Glory to God in the Highest!”
May our Christmas season remind us in every way of Jesus Christ our King!”

(Again, borrowed from the TCM website, 12/19/2022, author’s name unknown.)

Blessed Christmas to each one of you!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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Advent Expections

Pastor Sherry’s message for December 11, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 35:1-10; Lk 1:47-55; Ja 5: 7-10; Matt 11:2-11

The story is told of a baby boy born into the Lane family in 1958. The father, a man named Robert, chose to name his boy Winner. How could the young man fail to succeed with a name like “Winner Lane”?

Several years passed and the Lanes had another son. For unknown reasons (this is a true story), Robert named this boy “Loser.” What a terrible thing to do to the baby—(like Johnny Cash’s “A Boy named Sue”)—Robert and his silent wife seemed to have doomed their 2nd son’s prospects. I wonder how many years he spent in counseling trying to overcome that moniker.

Of course, everyone who knew the boys probably thought they could figure out how they would turn out. After all, the psychological concept of the “Self-fulfilling Prophecy”–or you get what you expect from a child–is well known (Consider the “Pygmalion in the Classroom” research in which 4th grade teachers were told their students were brilliant—when they were actually ordinary—and watched how they treated these kids. By year’s end, those kids had performed excellently and had even raised their IQ points, demonstrating that teachers’ expectations had an important effect on kids’ performance.)

But contrary to everyone’s prophecies, Loser Lane succeeded. He graduated from college and later became a sergeant with the NYPD, shield # 2762. Nowadays, no one feels comfortable calling him “Loser.” His colleagues simply refer to him as “Lou.”

And what about the other brother? The one everyone expected to be a great success? The most noteworthy achievement of Winner Lane is the sheer length of his criminal record. Inmate #OOR28Q7 has nearly three dozen arrests for burglary, domestic violence, trespassing, resisting arrest, and other assorted acts of mayhem. Sometimes things don’t quite turn out as we might expect.

(Borrowed from Tom Hughes, Down to Earth: How Jesus’ Stories Can Change Your Everyday Life, NavPress, 2019, p.13).

These examples demonstrate that we need to be careful about what we expect of our children and of others. Often our expectations may be too high or too low. They can put emotional pressure on those we love and thus limit or frustrate them, disappointing them and us. This time of year, we also tend to have expectations of Christmas which may or may not be appropriate.

The best way to keep our Advent expectations realistic is to check them against what Scripture records and predicts:

A. Our psalm this morning is the Song of Mary, also known as “The Magnificat” (Luke 1:47-55). (The custom in the early church was to name psalms after the Latin rendering of the 1st word or two; so, Magnificat for “My soul magnifies….” Notice: We would expect the whole psalm to say, “YIPPEE, God picked ME!” Young women from the tribe of Judah grew up wishing and believing they might be the one to bear the Messiah. And despite her challenges of being unmarried and poor, Mary does rejoice in God’s choice of her.

But the majority of her focus is on glorifying/praising God for what He is doing (through her) for His people! How mature! She wisely takes the focus off herself, and sets it upon God’s activity. She praises Him for His mercy to those who respect and revere Him; His past works of power; His surprising, unexpected propensity to reverse worldly fortunes (the low are raised up and the lofty are brought low); and for His fulfillment of His promises (Genesis 12, 17, and 22) to Israel: a king from the lineage of David; and a messiah who will bless all nations on earth.

What does Mary have to teach us about expectations? She had been raised to expect the Messiah to come. She knew from Scripture that He would redeem His people.

What does Mary have to teach us about love and joy (We lit the candle for joy today)? Because she loved God, she was willing to bear up under public criticism and condemnation. Because she loved God, she surrendered to His will. Because she loved God, she praised Him, with great joy, for keeping His promises to His people.

B. In our Gospel lesson today, Matthew 11:2-11, Jesus has sent the 12 out to put into practice all He has taught them. He, Himself, continues to preach and teach. JtB (John the Baptist) has been imprisoned for some time now, and—as often happens—he begins to doubt his earlier faith that his cousin Jesus is the Messiah. He deploys 2 disciples to ask Jesus (v.3) Are You the One who was to come, or should we expect someone else?

No doubt JtB expected Jesus to set him free. Jesus does not do so. Instead He reiterates His job description from Isaiah 61:1: the blind see; the lame walk; lepers are healed; the deaf hear; the dead are raised to life; and the Good News is preached to the poor. Because He avoids saying He will…proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, JtB learns Jesus will not be leading his jail break. The response comes back to him, “Yes, your cousin is the Messiah you proclaimed at the beginning of His earthly ministry. But no, He will not be supervising your prison release.”

Jesus does not meet JtB’s personal expectations. Apparently, it suited God’s purposes for JtB to leave the scene (decrease) so Jesus’ ministry could increase. But He does proclaim him the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Hopefully, JtB understood this need to exit the world stage and began to prepare himself to meet his Maker.

C. In fact, JtB probably knew Isaiah 35:1-10, a Messianic prophecy from 700 years before Jesus’ birth. He would have remembered that in the predicted Messianic Age (the 1000 year reign of Christ). The material earth will be restored to the time before the Fall. Scholars believe it will be returned to what the Garden of Eden was like. When Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed the ground and the serpent, but not the people. Paul will later assert (Romans 8:22) We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Paul had learned from Jesus that creation, too, would be redeemed at Jesus’ 2nd Coming.

Additionally, JtB would recall that the bodies of human beings will be renewed. Verses 5-6 state …the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. Jesus accomplished the healing of many individuals during His 1st Advent. But when He comes again, all of humankind will be spiritually, physically, and emotionally healed. How’s that for a truly wonderful Advent expectation (and promise)!

D. No wonder we have the James 5:7-10 passage assigned for today as well. The 2nd coming of Jesus Christ will right all that is now wrong with our world. However, as James counsels us, we need to (v.7) Be patient, then, brothers [and sisters] until the Lord’s coming. Scripture has told us what to expect. We just need to wait with faith, as a farmer waits for his/her crops to grow. When I was in seminary in Pittsburgh, I planted crocuses around my house. Even if there was still snow on the ground, these were the first blooms of Spring to manifest. They made such a beautiful display against a white or dirt background. Unfortunately, there were also many deer around my place, and they dined on those flowers about as fast as they came up. James also recommends we meditate on the lives of the prophets—including JtB—who prophesied the wonders to come, but did not get to experience them during their lifetime on earth.

Remember how, as a child, it was so difficult to wait until Christmas morning to see what Santa left under the tree or to unwrap our gifts? We would be so anxious and excited we could hardly sit still. As grown-up believers in Jesus, we can have this same excitement over Jesus’ appearing, while we patiently wait, in faith, for that great day. We just want our Advent Expectations of Jesus to line up with what Scripture promises and describes.

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

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Hopeful Readiness

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 27, 2022

Scriptures: 11/27/2019, Isa 2:1-5; Ps 122; Ro 1:11-14; Matt 24:36-44

In a sermon by a preacher named Mark Schaeufele, I heard the following story:

“The Butterball Turkey company [had] set up a hotline to answer consumer questions about preparing holiday turkeys. One woman called to inquire about cooking a turkey that had been in her freezer for 23 years. The operator told her it might be safe if the freezer had been kept below 0 degrees the entire time. But the operator warned the woman that, even if it were safe, the flavor had probably deteriorated, and she wouldn’t recommend eating it. The caller replied, “That’s what we thought. We’ll just give it to the church.”

That, like you, made me laugh! Now I could go on to preach about giving God our best–not a 23 year old frozen turkey—but instead I want us to consider how prepared we are for Christ’s 2nd Coming. If the lady of the joke had been stocking-piling frozen food for 23+ years, we might assume she is ready for any earthly emergency (hurricane, sunami, tornado, volcano, deadly virus, etc.). But is she, and are you, spiritually ready?

This is what our Scriptures address this morning. They all ask the question, “Are we ready for the Second Advent?” Now you may be thinking, “Wait just a minute…I’m doing my best to get ready to celebrate the first Advent, the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus:

(1) I’ve donated a Shoe-box or two, or 20.
(2) I’m baking Christmas cookies and fruit cakes like my hair’s on fire.

(3) I’m decorating my place…inside and out.

(4) I’m gathering gifts from weeks of Black Friday sales.

(5) I’m beginning to write out Christmas cards;

(6) I’m humming Christmas carols in the shower.

(7) We are anticipating Christmas on the Square and the Christmas parade in Live Oak.

(8) The grandchildren and great grandchildren are talking up their Santa lists and are already beyond excited!

(9) Why, we have even decorated the Church—thanks to all of you who came out to help—and lit our first Advent candle, the candle of Hope!

We really are getting ready for Christmas, but our lessons today aren’t about the First Noel. The Mass of Christ (that is where we get the word, Christmas) focuses on the past and the present. Past: Jesus’ birth in a manger long ago; Present: Our attempts to live out that magnanimous love of God the Father—in gifting us with His Only Begotten Son—in our lives today. But Advent also focuses on Jesus’ future return.

To facilitate our hopeful readiness for this future return, our lessons today spotlight the Second Coming of Christ, as the King!

A. Isaiah 2:1-5 Our OT lesson is clearly a Messianic Prophecy: Verse 2 speaks of…the last days….This is a Blibical expression for the end of time. It refers not to when bad things start to happen—like the Great Tribulation—but to when Jesus establishes His Millennial rule and reign on the earth (after He has defeated Satan and evil at the Battle of Armageddon). Several things will happen then:

(1) (V.2) The mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains. The mountain of the Lord is Mount Zion, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But mountain also means the kingdom, the authority, the rule of Jesus. So we could read the sentence this way: The rule of Jesus will be established as chief among all rulers. Right now, Moslems control or rule the Temple Mount. The Mosque of Omar sits on the former site of the Jewish Temple, and most holy sites are controlled by Christian gentiles rather than Jews. But in the future Advent, God’s Holy Temple will be re-established on Mt. Zion with Jesus and the Father as its residents, and as a gathering place for all Christ-followers.

(2) Jerusalem will become the world center of both government and religion. There will be one, Christ-centered world order. You hear occasionally now calls for a “total world order,” including using the same currency, etc. But don’t be fooled. This is a secular movement, not a movement of God. In the last days, however, we will learn God’s will for us—if we haven’t already–and we will do His will, gladly, joyfully.

(3) Jesus will judge disputes between nations and settle them so He will create true peace. As Isaiah predicts in verse 4 They [all people] will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks [weapons will be turned into farming implements]. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. There will be no need for the service academies, military bases, warships or planes, or standing armies. Imagine a world totally at peace.

(4) So, Isaiah urges us to walk in the light of the LORD as we await King Jesus’ return. We should act like we know Jesus is looking—because He is–and we should wait for Him in hopeful readiness.

B. Psalm 122 is a Psalm of Ascent, sung by faithful Jews as they walked uphill toward Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. However, it is also a Messianic prophesy, looking forward to the time when all of the tribes of the Jews will be reunited in Israel and will worship God–and Jesus– in Jerusalem. Hosea 3:4-5 is not one of our lessons appointed for today, but it repeats or echoes this prophecy For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice [as they are doing right now, today]….Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king [Jesus, David’s descendant]. They will come trembling to the Lord and to His blessings in the last days. In other words, in the last days, the Jews will finally have accepted Jesus as the rightful Messiah.

It may be difficult for us to envision this grand reunion of Jews and Gentiles who all love Jesus, but if we believe Scripture, we can await it with hopeful readiness.

C. Romans 13:11-14 Paul focuses on how we treat our neighbors. He says, in so many words, we demonstrate love for our neighbors in what we do, rather than in what we say. Just prior to this passage, he reminds us not to break the 10 Commandments (not commit adultery, murder, steal, or covet—all sins against others). Then, he goes on to exhort us to Wake up! Because Jesus is coming again! In verse 12 he declares …the night is nearly over, by which he means this present evil age. He goes on to say, The day is almost here, meaning the long awaited second appearing of Jesus Christ. We want to be ready by avoiding, as best we can, deeds of darkness—sins…and to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, Paul is exhorting us to put Christ first in our lives, and to display outwardly what has taken place inwardly within us. Simply put, Paul wants us to practice all the virtues associated with Jesus, as we wait with hopeful readiness….

D. Matthew 24:36-44 In this passage, Jesus is describing when He will come again. 1st of all, no one knows when that will be–not even Jesus! Then He offers us two metaphors to encourage us to be ready:

(1) When Noah built the ark, no one else much believed it would rain enough to require a large boat; but, it did! And those who had not listened to the Lord (through Noah), and had ridiculed him, drowned. It was a time of great immorality—much like today–and all gross sinners perished.

(2) Burglars tend to come to our homes at night, or when we are away. If we want to thwart a robbery, we need to be prepared. We lock our doors. We have a dog, a burglar alarm, or a gun to ensure our safety. We keep our important papers and jewelry in a safe or bank deposit box. Similarly, Jesus is warning us to be prepared, to be ready. Going back to the issues at hand—Jesus’ 2nd Coming–we should live each day as though it is our last.

All of our lessons exhort us to be hopeful and ready. We can’t just count on looking like we are right with the Lord when He shows up again. We need to practice, daily, being surrendered to His will; and trying, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to live in a way that pleases Jesus.

We could say, then, that Advent is really a “wake up call.” We never really know when the God-moment (2nd Coming) is going to arrive, so we have to be ready all the time. This readiness is not a matter of hanging decorations, baking cookies, sending out Christmas cards, or attending holiday parties—though those things are all fine and good. This readiness is developed by establishing tenderness/love in our hearts, for God and others. It is a willingness in our spirits to hear God’s Word and go God’s way.

Remember, our God has a habit of sneaking up on people, often making appearances in unusual ways, through unlikely people, in unexpected places. In the 1st Advent, it was thru “a little baby, the child of an unwed, teenaged mother, in a dirty, smelly cow-stall, on the other side of nowhere.” (Stated by Fairless and Chilton, The Lectionary Lab, A, 2013, p.4). Who knows when or where God will show up again? It could be this afternoon, or tomorrow, or Christmas Day. But whenever it comes, we need to be awake, hopeful and prepared! Amen!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Waiting for Christ’s Return

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 13, 2022

Scriptures: Isaiah 65:17-25; Isaiah 12; 2 Thess 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

Does it seem to you that we are often called upon to wait? We wait to be called in at the doctor’s, the dentist’s, or the vet’s office and in lines at Walmart, the grocery story, and the airport. How about waiting on the final results of this year’s elections? Florida had 7.5 million votes tabulated mere hours after the polls closed. Why has it taken Las Vegas—a place known for skillfully counting cards and numbers—and Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona, days and days to tally theirs?

Often we may feel like the old guy in the following story:

A very old man lay dying in his bed. In death’s doorway, he suddenly smelled the aroma of his favorite chocolate chip cookie wafting up the stairs. He gathered his remaining strength and lifted himself from the bed. Leaning against the wall, he slowly made his way out of the bedroom, and with even greater effort forced himself down the stairs, gripping the railing with both hands.With labored breath, he leaned against the door frame, gazing into the kitchen. Were it not for death’s agony, he would have thought himself already in heaven. There, spread out on waxed paper on the kitchen table were literally hundreds of his favorite chocolate chip cookies. Was it heaven? Or was it one final act of heroic love from his devoted wife, seeing to it that he left this world a happy man? Mustering one great final effort, he threw himself toward the table. The aged and withered hand, shaking, made its way to a cookie at the edge of the table, when he was suddenly smacked with a spatula by his wife. “Stay out of those,” she said. “They’re for the funeral. Source Unknown

That joke is awful! The wife certainly isn’t behaving like a Christian, is she? But it does bring home the point that we can wait with great expectation but be disappointed in the results. We might even wish we hadn’t gotten our hopes up.

However, Christ’s return will not disappoint those of us who love Him. It seems like it’s taking forever, and we wonder when it will happen. In 2 Peter 3:8-15a—Peter reminds us that God himself is patient. He calculates time differently than we do (vv.8-9)–>With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. A Smart aleck once read these words and went on to have a conversation with God that sounded like this:

“Lord – is it true that a thousand years for us is just like a minute to you?”

“Yes.”

“Then a million dollars to us must just be a penny to you.”

“Yes.”

“Lord, would you give me one of those pennies?”

“All right. Wait here a minute.”

(Source =Lifeway website; sermon by Rick Ezell on Wednesday, January 01, 2014)

Today’s Scripture passages all deal with either how to wait or signs to help us discern if the end is truly near.

A. Paul has much to say in his letters to the Thessalonian church about recognizing and awaiting the End Times. In our passage from last week, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17, Paul is writing in about 52 or 53AD, just twenty years or so after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Some in the church thought they were in the End Times due to the Roman persecution. They worried that Christ had already returned and they had missed Him. Paul declares they have not and tells them what should reassure them: First of all, there will be a huge, active falling away from Christ—international apostasy—out of which will arise, “the man of lawlessness” (the Anti-Christ). We are seeing this already in America. We are now a post-Christian nation, with many not even knowing who Jesus is and with others who couldn’t care less. They dabble in the occult, they look to horoscopes and mediums, they may even worship Satan, but they tend to have no interest in pursuing the Christian God.

But back to “the man of lawlessness.” He will become a dictator, taking military, political, and religious control of the world. The big key to his identity is that (v.4) —He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Right now, the Holy Spirit is holding him back/restraining him/preventing him from appearing. But when he arrives on the scene, he will mimic Jesus, claim to be Him, and perform counterfeit miracles based on Satan’s power. Right now, dictators come, ascend to power, fall and die. But the question to ask is, “Do they take over God’s temple and claim to be God?”—and— “Can they work miracles?” Nevertheless, take heart! Whatever he says or does, Jesus will overcome him.

What will help us stand firm until Jesus comes again is…

1.) Knowing Scripture so we can’t be fooled;

2.) Holding onto our faith, despite hard times;

3.) And prayer.

In today’s passage, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Paul gets after those believers who have stopped working as they wait. “No” he says! Look at his example: he worked as a tentmaker when he was among them. In verse 10, he is adamant—If a man [or woman] will not work, he [she] shall not eat.

So, how do we wait on Jesus’ Second Coming?

1.) Study Scripture, so we are aware of the signs.

2.) Hold onto our faith, no matter what happens in the culture.

3.) Pray.

4.) And work—even if we are retired (we can do acts of service and always pray for others).

B. Jesus, in Luke 21:5-19, forecasts some other signs that the end is coming. He predicts (v.8), first, there will be what He calls “false Christs,” false Messiahs. They will make claims that they are gods, but we must measure them against what we know of our One, True, Lord Jesus Christ. Also, they will bring with them indoctrination into false religions (perhaps like Progressive ideology, Critical Race Theory, and distortions of gender and sexuality, involving sex-change surgeries and hormonal therapies for children and the belief that men can have babies).

Next, He says we can look for wars, revolutions, and rumors of wars. It will be a time of turbulence all over the globe. These will precede the end, but are not the end itself. In verses 10-11, He describes worldwide chaos: Nations aligning with or fighting against each other; widespread earthquakes, famines, and plagues; fearful events and great signs from heaven—whatever those will be.

But even before these happenings arrive, Christ-followers will be persecuted. Even now, Christians are being raided and arrested by the FBI. The MyPillow®️ guy was stopped at a Hardee’s drive through and had his phone confiscated by FBI agents serving a subpoena. These violations of our civil rights will only increase. But Jesus assures us that we are not to worry about what to say when brought before judges or governmental officials. Instead of being horrified, we are to consider this our opportunity to witness to them. Instead of being tongue-tied or worried about what to say, Jesus assures us that He—through the power of the Holy Spirit–will give us the words to say, words that no one can dispute. We will become objects of hate to non-believers, perhaps including our family members and friends, but Jesus will protect us. He wants us to trust Him, despite whatever happens to us, including being martyred. This is a difficult truth to preach, but it is what Jesus predicted. May we have the courage and be strengthened to endure it if it comes to that.

C. Isaiah 65:17-25 reminds us of why we should stand firm in our faith, no matter what persecutions or trials we face in the End Times.

After Jesus defeats the forces of evil at Armageddon, God (v.17) will create new heavens and a new earth. If you read through Revelation, you can tell our world will be pretty beaten up by the time Jesus appears a 2nd time. We will probably need a new earth, at a minimum. God tells us, through His prophet (v.19) —The new Jerusalem will be delightful! God will be overjoyed with His people there; and they too will be very happy, with no weeping or crying. Premature death will be an event of the past (no cancers, illnesses, strokes, or heart-attacks). People will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labors (which assumes no warfare or taxes). All of God’s people will be blessed! God will answer our prayers before we even finish praying them. And all animals will become plant-eaters—no more carnivores devouring prey—and will be at peace with each other. Nonbelievers say it is certainly impossible for carnivores to become herbivores. However, if God created them, He can certainly alter their digestive systems and their food preferences.

Isaiah paints a great picture of what is to come while we wait for Christ’s return. But, like so many times in life, it appears to be going to get pretty rough for us before it eases up. I think of the three times I gave birth. Labor is truly hard work, but the birth at the end makes it all worth the travail. Our Lord promises us that it will smooth out and the end will be great!

The challenge for each of us is to hold on to our faith while we wait. In the meantime, we don’t want to get discouraged over political, economic, or social hardships. Instead we want to hold on to Jesus with both hands, trusting in Him no matter what comes. We want to be like Paul, who exhorted us (in Philippians 3:13-14) … straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Amen! May that be so for all of us!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Our God Prefers Truth over Lying to Influence People

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 6, 2022

Scriptures: Haggai 1:15-2:9; Ps 145:1-5; 2 Thess 2:1-17; Lk 20:27-40

One of the things I most love about our God is that He is a straight shooter. He always speaks the truth, and nothing but the truth, even if folks don’t like it or don’t want to hear it. Truth, real truth, is often a scarce commodity. In this time of elections, for instance, we hear “facts” from a candidate that are called “disinformation”—or outright lies—by his/her opponent. Since they contradict each other, we end up wondering which one is telling the real truth. The same is true of newscasters. Remember the days of the great Walter Cronkite? He detailed the news without spin or opinion. We felt like we were hearing the truth and we trusted him. Telling the truth leads to trust in the person who tells it.

Two stories I read recently highlight this:

(1) The first concerns 2 outrageously wealthy and wicked brothers. They were consummate hypocrites, acting like they were such great Christians on Sundays, and contributing tons of money to various church projects—you know the type—while the rest of the week, they schemed and scammed at work, defrauded their friends and colleagues, and cheated on their wives. (These are the kinds of Christians that non-Christians point to, paint with a broad brush, and use to call us all hypocrites.)

A new pastor arrived who preached Biblical truths with passion and commitment. Under his leadership, the church grew so much that the congregation needed to enlarge their worship space. At about that time, one of these brothers died. The other brother approached the new pastor and offered to cover the entire cost of the building expansion, if the new pastor would claim at the funeral that the deceased brother had been a saint.

Now the new minister had discerned the truth about these two brothers. Nevertheless, he gave his word that he would call the deceased a saint. He took the check to the bank, where he immediately deposited it. He then said the following at the funeral the next day: “This man was an ungodly sinner, wicked to the core. He was unfaithful to his wife, hot-tempered with his children, ruthless in his business, and a hypocrite at church…but compared to his brother, he was a saint.”

(2) The 2nd story comes from a 4th grade class who wrote a letter to their teacher who was convalescing in the hospital from surgery: “Dear Mrs. Fisher, Your fourth grade class wishes you a speedy recovery by a vote of 15-14.”

(Both stories reported by Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, pp.587-588.)

Two of our passages today demonstrate God’s preference for truth-telling over lying:

A. Haggai 1:15-2:9. The prophet Haggai, another minor prophet, proclaimed God’s word to the Israelite remnant when they returned to the Promised Land after their 70 year exile in Babylon. He ministered during the same period as Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Zechariah. His book is the 2nd shortest in the Old Testament (only Obadiah is shorter).

He gave five messages to the people and each is precisely dated based on the reigns of the kings of Persia. The challenge which proceeds today’s reading (1:1-11) was given on September 1, 520BC. The people had encountered resistance from Samaritans and Arabs around them in their efforts to rebuild the Temple. So when the process became difficult, they wrongly assumed it must not be God’s will to rebuild at that time. God rebuked and redirected the remnant’s erroneous assessment (1:12-15) on September 24, 520. Essentially, the Lord told them, “Au contrare, mes amis. [This is the last that I remember of my high school French.] You have deserted your work on My house to work on your own houses. I am not happy with this! Don’t worry about the resistance because…(v.13) I am with you.” So they jumped to it! (v.15b) on the 24th day of the 6th month in the 2nd year of King Darius.

After they had gathered material and begun again to rebuild, the Lord encouraged the people, (2:1-9) on October 21st, 520. The elderly folks—who had been around to see the grandeur of Solomon’s Temple—were dismayed by how pitiful (to them) the reconstructed temple looked. Solomon’s Temple, which Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had destroyed, had been a “jewel box,” and one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. It had been constructed of marble overlaid with gold, silver and jewels. These poor refugees had no such gold, silver, or jewels; they rebuilt with just rock set upon rock. So God had the prophet tell the political leader, Zerubbabel, the religious leader, Joshua (a different Joshua from the one who had led the Children of Israel into the Promised Land), and all the people, Be strong…for I am with you. The Lord encouraged them by saying (vv.6-9) In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land [in other words, shock and awe everyone]. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations [Jesus] will come, and I will fill this house with glory [because Jesus will be teaching within it]. The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine…the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house…and in this place I will grant peace.

So God conveyed to them the stark truth: “You have abandoned building My house because you got scared, then focused on your own houses. You need to get cracking on My house!” Once they did begin construction, they were disappointed with the results. Again, God redirected them. “I’ve got this. This house will exceed the beauty of Solomon’s Temple, though plain, because Jesus, My Son, will grace it with His divine presence.” Notice: God is honest with them but also tender and encouraging.

2. Luke 20:27-40. In a way similar to that of God the Father, Jesus rebukes and redirects the Sadducees. Remember, the Sadducees were the rich, urbane, religious liberals of the day. They dismissed the Pharisees as fundamentalists, and they curried the favor of the Romans for power and influence. They approach Jesus with a ridiculous issue: How likely is it that a woman would marry one brother after his elder brother had died, on and on through 7 brothers? Brothers 3-7 would no doubt decide she was cursed and would avoid her, or barren and would avoid her.

We see this with Judah’s 1st two sons. Back in Genesis 38, Tamar married Judah’s 1st son, Er. He was so wicked he was put to death by God.

Then, according to the law intended both to provide for and to protect widows—as well as ensure descendants for the dead man–Tamar married Judah’s 2nd son, Onan. Onan was also very evil so the Lord put him to death as well. Judah refused to allow Tamar to marry his 3rd son, Shelah, believing she might somehow cause his death too. My maternal grandmother married five times (but not to 5 brothers). Each died a natural death. Nevertheless, we teased her claiming that marrying her was the “kiss of death” for her husbands.

These Sadducees should have been familiar with this Genesis story, so would have known their example was preposterous. Additionally, as Luke points out, Sadducees didn’t even believe in an afterlife or in a resurrection.

Matthew and Mark both report that Jesus told them they neither knew Scripture nor understand the power of God (they didn’t believe in the supernatural or in miracles). Jesus doesn’t really address their ridiculous case, but instead demonstrates from Exodus 3 that Our God is the God of living persons. He says to them (v.37) But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” [all present tense]. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive. He is the God of all of us on earth and also of those who go on to heaven to dwell—in a different life form—with Him there. He rebukes them for their ignorance of God’s Word and their unbelief, but redirects them to the reality of resurrection.

So what is God saying to us today thru these passages? Among a number of possibilities are the following:

(1) I believe He is asking us, “Will we be honest with people?” Like our God is, like the new pastor in the story was, and like the children were. God the Father enjoined us not to lie, making slander or “bearing false witness,” the 9th of the 10 Commandments. We want to remember that Jesus called Himself the way, the truth, and the life. To our God, truth is not just a virtue or a concept, it is the person of Jesus! Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth, so He too both embodies truth and can lead us to the truth. We can ask the Holy Spirit to help us discern what is true and what isn’t. We can also ask the Holy Spirit to give us the courage to speak the truth, in all situations.

(2) We want to speak truth, but we also want—as best as we can– to speak the truth in love. The Father rebuked the remnant, then also encouraged them. Jesus rebuked the Sadducees, then redirected them, addressing their core theological errors. In both stories I related, the folks involved told the truth, but without much love or compassion.

(3) Lying politicians, newscasters, and others need to beware. Jesus says of Satan, in John 8:44 that…[Satan] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lives. Lying helps us resemble the evil one in behavior. Lying is never a good idea. It offends God. Additionally, the truth generally always comes out, then the liar is shown for what he/she is.

This Tuesday, Election Day, let’s watch and see who the American people perceive are the liars, and may the truth-tellers win! And may we resolve always to speak the truth in love.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Where Do We Turn When Times Get Tough?

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 2, 2022

Scriptures : Lam 1:1-6; Ps 137; 2 Tim 1:1-14; Lk 17:5-10

While I was laid up with a bad back last Sunday—by the way, thank you for your prayers, and solicitous emails and texts—I listened to sermons by Dr. Ed Young, Sr. (an excellent expositor of the Bible), and Pastor Joel Osteen, a terrific encourager. They are both exceptional preachers. I noted that Joel tends to lead off with a joke, even if it’s not really relevant to his sermon topic. I thought I would share one of his I heard last Sunday that’s also not really relevant to what I intend to preach today—but it’s funny:

A young woman’s mother has died and she is greeting friends and family at the reception following her mom’s funeral. A cousin comes up to her and congratulates her on her recent inheritance of $10,000 from her deceased mother.

“Oh,” she replies, “didn’t you know Mom did not leave that to me?”

The cousin was shocked! The young women explained, “Mom never had much money, you know, so she wanted to be buried with that $10,000.”

The cousin was aghast! “You don’t mean to say you placed it in her coffin?

“Oh, yes. I wanted to honor her wishes so, before they closed her casket, I tucked into her hands a check for the full amount.”

This isn’t a sermon on tithing, so you can put away that worry. Instead, what I want to focus on is what the Lord has to say to us today about how to hold onto our faith when times get tough. Times are tough right now, aren’t they? In June, I reopened my counseling practice to offset the impact of inflation on my monthly budget. I’m now treating about 4 therapy clients over the internet. Many of us are also re-learning how to further economize. We take fewer trips in our cars or only fill our gas tank partway. We shop with coupons, search the sales, buy the BOGO’s, or change to cheaper products at less expensive stores. We are concerned about the increase in crime all around us and perhaps are worried about our safety.

Many have stopped watching the news on TV because the video images are so horrific, and the lying and conniving of so many government officials—and their family members—is so depressing. Thank God we love a Lord who knows our anguish and responds to our pain! He does not overlook unethical or immoral behavior on the part of our leaders.

I don’t know about you but I was encouraged this week when an Italian woman, Giorgia Maloni, was elected Prime Minister of Italy. The press tried to paint her as a fascist; but she bravely ran on the platform of “God, Family, and Country”—a conservative, but hardly a fascist! Good for her and good for the Italians! I hope this is the beginning of a new trend across the western world.

Let’s jump into our Scripture lessons and see if God would agree. (I believe He would.)

A. In 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Paul is writing to the young pastor, Timothy, who he has left in charge of the Church in Ephesus (around 67AD). Paul had led Timothy to Christ, so he is providing this dearly beloved [spiritual] son with instruction on church order and principles of church leadership so that he can become a successful minister of the Gospel. This letter is a kind of seminary tutorial from Professor Paul. He wants Timothy to note that he is at the top of Paul’s prayer list (Don’t we all wish we had been at the top of Paul’s prayer list?)

Especially in this 2nd pastoral letter (also his final letter before being beheaded in Rome), Paul warns Timothy about the afflictions that beset a congregation and its pastor—especially apostasy. In our context, the dictionary would define apostasy as the willful turning away from the principles of the Christian faith. This rejection of God is not due to ignorance, but to the human choice to turn one’s back on Jesus. To prevent this, Paul wants Timothy to continue to preach the Word of God and the Gospel: (1) No matter if people turn away; (2) No matter if congregational numbers dwindle; (3) No matter if people don’t feel sufficiently entertained; (4) No matter if folks don’t want to hear the teachings of Jesus. Paul is saying, in so many words, “Make it winsome if you can, but don’t skimp on presenting the reality of the Gospel. No matter what forces come against you, Timothy,” Paul exhorts him, “you remain strong!”

In verse 7, he famously reminds him, For God did not give us a spirit of timidity [fear], but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline [a sound mind]. When the world comes against you—and it will—remember that you have a spirit of power: the Holy Spirit is in you, to guard, guide, and strengthen you! The love of Jesus and of God the Father enfold you and stand behind you so that, rather than fearing people’s bad opinions or getting angry and becoming vengeful, you can operate out of Spirit-induced self-restraint and self-control. Paul knew Timothy (and we) lack self-confidence so he told him this to give him (and us) self-assurance and to help us recognize the true source of our strength.

Furthermore, like an excellent coach, he inspired Timothy with his own example of bearing up under persecution, travail, and trials. Consider how Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, suffered for the sake of the Gospel.

Don’t be caught off guard by tough days, weeks, or even tough seasons.

These happen to all of us—especially if we love and serve Jesus. The evil one doesn’t bother those he already holds in his hands, such as non-believers and the apostate. Make no mistake, as the enemy of
God, he comes after true believers, tooth and nail, trying to get us so discouraged that we abandon God. It would be naïve to think being a Jesus-follower protects us from tough times. Nevertheless, we don’t want to give him the victory over us. So Paul reminds Timothy (and us) to (v.14)—Guard the good deposit [of faith and love] that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

What are we to do when times get tough? Hold on to our faith in Christ Jesus!

B. Speaking of Jesus, He hits this very issue in Luke 17:5-10. He admonishes His disciples (and us) to hold onto our faith–even if it’s just a small amount–and perform our duties to God and others dependably. He wants us to remember that our salvation is a gift from God. We don’t work to achieve it. Therefore, our obedience to God is not a matter of earning merit but of dutifully expressing our gratitude. When we are born again, we demonstrate our appreciation of God by our service to Him and to others. Out of love and reverence for God, we behave toward Him as servants. The word in the Greek is doulos and it also means slaves. A friend from seminary planted a church in Gainesville, Florida, called “Servants of Christ,” to remind his congregation of this very fact. We are all servants of the Son of God.

C. Jeremiah shares with us what happens when a people dedicated to God at their inception as a nation turns apostate (Lamentations 1:1-6). The prophet is grieved! He weeps and laments for Judah and Jerusalem, personalizing the city as a woman. He witnessed the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians in 586BC. He saw his countrymen and women killed, wounded, and carted off into slavery. In his grief, he reveals to us the heart of God. God is heartbroken when we veer off into sin and apostasy. At God’s direction, Jeremiah had tried to call his people to return the Lord, but he was unable to deter their downward trajectory. God continued to love them but despised their sin and could not allow it to continue unpunished.

Commenting on the connection between God’s love and His righteous anger over our sin, Rev. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan–considered one of the best preachers and Bible teachers in the world in the early to mid-1900’s—wrote the following: “This is a supreme necessity in the interest of the universe. Prisons are in the interest of the free. Hell is the safeguard of heaven. A state that cannot punish crime is doomed [Are the “defund the police” folks and “Progressive DA’s” listening?]; and a God Who tolerates evil is not good. Deny me my Biblical revelation of the anger of God and I am insecure in the universe. But reveal to me this Throne established, occupied by One Whose heart is full of tenderness, Whose bowels yearn with love; then I am assured that He will not tolerate that which blights and blasts and damns; but will destroy it, and all its instruments, in the interest of that which is high and noble and pure.” (Studies in the Prophecy of Jeremiah, Fleming H Revell, 1969, p.248). God disciplines us because He loves us. His desire, like than of any good parent, is that we learn to do better and to make wiser life choices.

D. Psalm 137 paints a similar picture. It is written from Babylon.

The deported Judeans remember Jerusalem and the Temple with sorrow and grief. They appear to realize their continued sin and rebellion toward God brought them to this place. They insist they want to return to Jerusalem and honor God. And, as is so very human, they want God repay their enemies–the nations that mocked them in their defeat–by destroying their children. This last wish is not consistent with the teachings of Jesus, but rather an expression of their distress. They are particularly angry with the descendants of Esau, the Edomites. Remember, Esau was the carnal twin brother of Jacob, God’s choice to become a leader of Israel. The Edomites had ridiculed these Judeans in their defeat. This hurt! This would be like the betrayal of extended family members, or of cousins allied against cousins.

Again, seeking revenge is not a Christian response to tough times. Seeking out God is. We want to trust that God is for us and not against us. We want to trust that even when we disappoint Him, He still loves us.

However, we need to understand that He will not tolerate disobedience—and especially apostasy—forever. In tough times, we repent of our sins and trustingly lean into the loving and everlasting arms of Christ!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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

Unshakable Faith

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 7, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 1:1-20; Ps 50; Heb 11:1-16; Lk 12:32-40

Years ago, Paul Harvey shared the story about a 3 year old boy who accompanied his mother to the grocery store. Before entering the store, she gave him strict instructions not to even ask for chocolate chip cookies—his favorites. She put him in the cart and they proceeded up and down the aisles, as she gathered her groceries.

He was doing fine until they reached the cookie and cracker aisle. He saw the bag of his favorite kind and asked his mother if she would buy them for him. She reminded him of what she had told him prior to entering the store, and said, “No.” He was disappointed but soon distracted as she wheeled him by other displays. Realizing she had forgotten soup crackers, she returned to the cookie aisle.

Once again, he asked, “Mom, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?” Again, his mother held firm: “No,” she said, and she reiterated, “we are not buying any cookies today.”

Finally, they arrived at the check-out counter. The boy, an experienced shopper, knew this is his last chance. As his Mom was unloading the contents of her buggy, he stood up in the seat and yelled, “In the name of Jesus, may I have some chocolate chip cookies?” Everyone in the check-out area stared, then broke into laughs and clapped. And while Mom gaped with open-mouth, 23 shoppers soon presented him with 23 bags of chocolate chip cookies.

I love this story! I shared it about 3 years ago as an illustration of the power of prayer. But today, I want to point out that this child knew that if he asked for something in Jesus’ name, he would get it. His mom had taught him about Jesus, and he had developed a child’s unshakable faith.

All of our Scripture passages today confirm our need for unshakable faith. Now this is not to say we never have doubts. Most of us ebb and flow, having unshakable faith some of the time and then less enduring faith at others. When we have doubts, we need to read Scripture, pray for faith—it is a spiritual gift—and remember that the devil’s first interaction with Eve in the Garden of Eden was to cast doubt on God’s goodness and on His word. Are our doubts legitimate or are they suggested to us by the evil one?

A. Our Isaiah (1:1-20) lesson reveals God’s deep unhappiness with the folks in Judah (the Southern Kingdom) because–like their brothers from the Northern Kingdom–they were headed, wheels off, toward the theological cliff. Speaking for God, the prophet Isaiah condemns them for their rebellion against the Lord. They have disobeyed Him. They have rejected Him and have turned their backs on Him. Yet they still go through the religious motions. Their Temple rites are impeccable.

Their sacrifices are given in the prescribed manner, according to what is laid out in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. But their hearts are far from God and He knows it! Their whole problem is spiritual apostasy. Religion without relationship is rebellion. They have the form of worship but not the substance. They are phonies and fakers—hypocrites–and they aren’t fooling God!

Even so, the Lord is willing to reason with them, in the heavenly courtroom. He is judge and He calls the rest of His creation as witnesses in the “trial” of His people. In verse 18, God says Come now, let us reason together…Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. Even now, at the 11th hour, He is willing to rescue them from plunging over the cliff. He says (vv.19-20) If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. How patient! How longsuffering! How loving, merciful, and willing to forgive! God is giving them yet another chance to demonstrate their obedience and unshakable faith in Him.

B. Similarly, Psalm 50 warns us of God’s coming judgment. As in Isaiah 1, the Lord calls for the heavens and the earth—all of His creation—to witness His righteous accusations against His people. Do you see the consistency of Scripture? Here we have two accounts, written by two different persons at separate times, but visualizing God bringing righteous accusations against His Chosen Ones in a court of law. Again, the people have been disobedient. They have rejected the Lord and continually violate His Law. They are apostate! They are neither faithful nor faith-filled. Furthermore, God does not need their sacrifices (v.13) If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. God is spirit. Does He even have to eat? If so, would He require our help? Not really, as every plant and animal on earth belongs to Him.

Instead, what God wants is for them to develop and live out unshakable faith in Him. This kind of faith is life-changing. This kind of faith is pleasing to God.

C. The Hebrews lesson comes from Chapter #11, or what is known as “the faith hall of fame.” The author of Hebrews first defines faith (v.1) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Then he (or she) posits that (v.2) This is what the ancients were commended for. Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham predated the incarnation of Jesus, as did all of the Old Testament patriarchs and heroes. They lived before Jesus came to earth. Nevertheless, we are assured that their faith—being sure of what they hoped for and certain of what they did not live to see—saved them.

Notice, with each patriarch, the verse begins with…

1.) oVerse 4–By faith, Abel…

2.) Verse 5–By faith, Enoch…

3.) Verse 7–By faith, Noah…

4.) Verse 8–By faith, Abraham….

Each of these men are examples to us of unshakable faith. That’s why they are included in the faith hall of fame. The writer to the Hebrews sums up the importance of faith in one sentence: (v.6) And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and the He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Again, our unshakable faith pleases God. Paul declares in Romans 10:9 …if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.’

Unshakable faith saved those who came before Jesus’ 1st Coming and saves us who now have the benefit of His model and teaching.

D. In our Gospel lesson today, Luke 12:32-40, Jesus makes two points: First, He wants us to not put our trust in things/possessions that are transitory. As I said last week, none of us will be taking a U-Haul to heaven. Things can be swept away, like the homes and goods of those poor folks flooded out recently in Eastern Kentucky. Things can rot and be ruined. Money can be lost.

When I went to seminary in 1996, I had a 401K account with $28,000 in it. My 13 year old daughter got sick and we had no health insurance. I had to cash in that retirement account to afford her care as we searched all over for a diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment. She had Chronic Fatigue (practically unknown then) and something called POTS, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome; i.e., her blood pressure varied in unexplained and unexpected ways. If she stood too long, she grew faint. She could not sit through a school day, so I had to home-school her. Praise God there were seminarians who helped. A former math teacher tutored her in Algebra; a missionary to Tanzania who spoke French helped her keep up her foreign language; two wives of seminarians, who were certified teachers, taught her Biology and English, respectively. I coached her in Social Studies. God provided in such a way that she was able to take her GED and pass out of high school without attending.

Additionally, when I left seminary, the college I worked at—Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa—had paid into a retirement account for me (I directed their counseling center by day and took seminary classes at night and during the summers). That account, when I finished my training in ministry, contained $28,000. How’s that for identifying the hand of God? The Lord had replaced my retirement funds! That and a number of other events have led me to have unshakable faith in Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. We are to trust in God’s care and provision for us. Jesus says in verse 32–Do not be afraid little flock [believers], for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom [God’s rule and reign on earth].

And, secondly, He wants us to trust in and be ready for His 2nd Coming. Jesus uses the metaphor of a wedding in which He is the bridegroom and we are the servants. In Ancient Near Eastern weddings, the celebrations could continue, at the bride’s family’s home, for a week. Meanwhile, servants back at the groom’s house—where the newlyweds would live in a room he had added (imagine all of your adult life with your in-laws)—would not know when he might actually leave the celebration to return home with his new bride. So, servants needed to stay ready, like a baby-sitter—don’t be asleep or have a boyfriend over when the parents get home; or like teens when their folks are away—don’t be having a party. In this particular parable, Jesus says the Master will be delighted if he arrives home to find everyone ready to greet him. In fact—since the Master is Jesus—He will serve the servants (in John 13:4-16, He washes their feet).

Therefore, we need to be ready whether He (Jesus) comes again at the 2nd watch, 9:00 pm, or the 3rd watch, 3;00 am, today or tomorrow or months from now. Jesus is not a thief, but His 2nd Coming will be much like that of a thief in the night. No thief tells you when he/she plans to burgle your home. Why? Because if we knew when and what time some bad actor was coming to rob us, we would be prepared. We would have some brawny friends and probably a gun or two (and a cell-phone to record the event).

Perhaps you saw the video this week of the 80 year old liquor store owner who fired at a young felon trying to rob his store? He was prepared. Interestingly, the crook ran out and jumped into a BMW station-wagon. That’s a pretty pricey get-a-way vehicle. But I diverge.

The important point is that Christ’s return is certain, but the time and the day is not. So, we want to exercise a faith that is…sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

As I have said before, and often, the US is in a similar position now to Judah back then. Our challenge is how to develop an unshakable faith in Jesus. What can help us do this?:

First , we can pray. Faith is a spiritual gift that God would love to give us. We can ask Him for unshakable faith.

Second, we can remind ourselves that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. In his commentary on Isaiah 1, J. Vernon McGee cites a helpful poem:

Philosophy says: Think your way out.

Indulgence says: Drink your way out.

Politics says: Spend your way out.

Science says: Invent your way out.

Industry says: Work your way out.

Communism says: Strike your way out.

Fascism says: Bluff [or bully] your way out.

Militarism says: Fight your way out.

The Bible says: Pray your way out, but

Jesus Christ says: I am the way [out]….

(Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, p.29.)

God’s judgment is coming, but our faith in Him, through the work of Christ on the Cross, saves us.

Third, we can also try to live a life like the Old Testament saints from Hebrews 11, …being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham did not live to see and learn about Jesus. They came way before Jesus’ time on earth, but they hoped for God’s eventual rescue of humankind. No matter their difficult circumstances—and they each had some–they trusted (believed) in God’s goodness and His loving kindness. When we nurture an unshakable faith in Jesus Christ, we have gained our way out of the troubles of this world.

Finally, we can offer to God our sincere, heartfelt worship. No empty rituals, but actions that speak louder than our words. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️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

Easter Punctuation

Pastor Sherry’s message for 4/17/22,

Scriptures: Acts 10:34-43; Ps 188:1-2, 14-24; 1Cor 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12

Remember the days of punctuation marks? Now we tend to use emojis. But try to recall the time when a comma, a period, a question mark, and an exclamation point were commonly used and meant something. Now ask yourself, “Easter morning: Would I describe my response to this day with a period, a comma, an ! or a ?” If it’s just another day, having no real meaning for you, then a period will do. But maybe a comma better describes it…it gives you a pause as you think about it, but then you rapidly move on to the next thought or activity, and the next, etc. Non-believers, if they consider it at all, would probably use a ? Huh?

This week I saw one of those episodes on the news where they ask folks on the street what they think of certain issues. This time, the interviewer asked people in a New York City park what Easter was. Sadly, most didn’t know. A few said it’s about the bunny, finding eggs, and eating chocolate. Only one woman said that Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We truly are living in a post-Christian America. But for those of us who love Jesus, Easter deserves a series of exclamation points. Fireworks emojis might also capture it. You may even throw in some smiley faces with hearts and praying hands.

But to the eyewitness disciples that original Easter, their morning was punctuated first by a period. They thought Jesus was dead, gone, buried, period. End of story. Their expectations of Him as their Messiah were disappointed. They were overwhelmed with dejection, grief and sorrow. Then the women arrive and tell what seems an unbelievable or even a crazy tale. His tomb is empty? A question mark at this point is more distressing than a period. A ? introduces doubt; it’s perplexing. Where could His body be? Who might have taken it? And why?

But thank God for angels, supernatural messengers (that requires an exclamation point)! Two angels are present to say (Luke 24:5-6) Why [?] do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ [?] The angels ask them a question, but they also expect them to remember what Jesus had said to them, repeatedly. OK, now they remember—thanks for reminding us! Even so, Peter and John (John 20:8) race to the tomb to see for themselves. Later that evening, the resurrected Jesus appears to the others. As is common with many folks, the disciples only believe when they can see for themselves. (Joe LoMusio, as quoted by Chuck Swindoll in The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, pp.171-172}.

By the end of Easter Day, the periods are gone. The question marks have been satisfactorily resolved. As our readings today attest, there remain, instead, several massive exclamation points! Alleluia, He is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

St. Luke, in Acts 10:34-43, wants us to know that one reason for an exclamation point was that Jesus’ death on the Cross—followed by His resurrection–had opened the way for Gentiles, like ourselves, to gain entrance into God’s Kingdom. As we have often noted, ethnic divisions were deeply ingrained in the Jews and others in 1st century Israel. For them, there were only two categories: Jews (the chosen people) and Gentiles (everyone else). Knowing this, Peter is surprised to be summoned to the home of the Roman centurion, Cornelius (who commanded and led over 600 soldiers). His household already knew about and believed in Jesus. Peter enters his home and announces: (v.34) I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men [and women] from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.

His sermon from verses 36-43 is truly a great summary of the entire Gospel. In short, he says Jesus lived and walked among us, preaching, teaching, healing, and doing miracles; He died on the Cross for our sins;

Then He rose again, demonstrating His power over sin and death. Following Peter’s sermon, the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his “congregation.” Peter considered this to be the Gentile Pentecost, and proceeded to baptize these Roman believers into the enfant Christian Church.

Scholars tell us that Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, was a Hillel psalm. This meant it was one of several psalms sung from memory at the Passover meal. Jesus would have sung it with the apostles after they drank the final cup of wine at their Seder supper. The psalm celebrates the victory of a reigning king who had once been looked down upon by rival nations.

Several verses are particularly meaningful when viewed in the light of the resurrection: Verse 18 reads (and prophetically, Jesus would be the speaker) I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord…He has not given Me over to death. Jesus was laid dead into a tomb; but He did not remain there as we would. Instead, He rose again, overcoming death! And, in verses 22-23 He says the stone [the Rock: Jesus] the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Jewish religious leaders rejected Jesus as the Messiah; they rejected the cornerstone. Later, Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:4 As you come to Him [Jesus], The Living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…. So a 2nd exclamation point is that Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled Old Testament prophecies (from the Psalms).

Third, St. Paul exhorts us to believe (in 1 Corinthians 15:19-26) that Jesus’ resurrection is the defining moment of Christianity.

First, (vv.5-8) he catalogues who all saw Jesus following His resurrection:

1. Peter,

2. The 12 minus Judas;

3. More than 500 disciples;

4. His brother, James;

5. And Paul himself.

Scholars tell us there is more eye-witness evidence that Jesus lived after His resurrection than there is for the existence of Julius Caesar (and many other important historical persons). There are many ancient manuscripts (all in museums now) that cite Christ’s resurrection. Josh and Sean McDowell, who wrote More than a Carpenter, researched proof of the resurrection and spent more than 700 hours discovering how well validated it is.

Next, in verses 13-19, Paul asserts that our entire faith depends upon the truth of the resurrection: Verse 14 If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. In other words, Christ’s resurrection from the dead is incontrovertibly true and forms the basis of our belief in Him. We worship a God who has the power to bring His Son back from the dead. I want a strong, powerful God like that, don’t you? We worship a God who loves us so much that He sacrificed His one and only Son to redeem us. We worship Jesus, the One and Only, the God Who—due to His self-sacrificing love for us and His obedience to His Father–was willing to suffer to cover the cost of our sins. The sinless Son of God gave up His life so we might have new life, and have it abundantly. We can connect directly with the Father because Jesus opened the way for us (As He hung on the cross, the Temple curtain—a huge thick drape of goat’s hair—was torn in two). We can anticipate being resurrected because Jesus opened the way for us. And, when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, He will destroy death…Praise God!

I’ve already commented extensively on our Gospel lesson today. Let me just add how ironic it is that the first to disbelieve Jesus’ resurrection were the apostles themselves. They didn’t believe the reports of the women who saw the open and empty tomb. Even after Peter viewed the physical evidence, he had to go off by himself to puzzle out what it meant. However, let’s offer them some grace—though difficult to believe, Jesus’ resurrection is nevertheless true, and they eventually got it!

As we wish one another Happy Resurrection Day, let us punctuate the day with exclamation marks as we remember the lyrics to an old Welsh Easter hymn:

We welcome glad Easter when Jesus arose

And won a great victory over His foes.

Then raise your glad voices, all Christians in song.

Bring glad Easter tidings to Jesus your King.

We tell how the women came early that day

And there at the tomb found the stone rolled away.

We sing of the angel who said: ‘Do not fear!

Your Savior is risen and He is not here.

We think of the promise which Jesus did give:

That he who believes in Me shall also live.’

Someone named S. Lewis Johnson has said (I don’t know who he is but I want to give him credit), “The Resurrection is God’s Amen! to Christ’s statement, “It is finished.” Alleluia, He is risen! The Lord is risen Indeed! Thanks be to God!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams