God is Good!

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 16, 2022

Scriptures—Isa 62:1-5; Ps 36:5-10; 1 Cor 12:1-11; Jn 2:1-11

Etymologists who study the evolution of language tell us that Old English developed from Germanic tribes (the Angles and Saxons) invading parts of England/Scotland and blending their Germanic tongues with the Celtic and Latin spoken there, around 300AD. (I know that languages evolve because my grandkids, 7th and 9th graders, speak words that I have never heard before or use words I know but which have a different meaning from what I learned.) Have you ever noticed that the words God and good are only separated by one letter, an extra “o”? This is significant because when these Germanic folk began to worship the God of the Old and New Testaments, fully revealed in Jesus Christ, they searched for a word to describe Him. Originally, they worshipped a pantheon of pagan gods with names like Odin, Thor, and Freya. They wanted a name that differentiated the Christian God from these. I don’t know why they didn’t use Yahweh, God’s name in the Old Testament. That would have gotten my vote, but, as they began to learn more about God’s nature, they were amazed by God’s goodness. So, they decided to use a form of their word good and adapt it to mean the Christian God.

In other words, the word that made the most sense to them to use to name our God was their word, good. This was true in Old English, but also in modern German and Dutch. We know from Scripture that God is good. Isn’t it interesting that when a group of ancient, northern European people came to accept our God as their Lord and Savior, they chose to call Him by their word for good?

I wrote this sermon on Thursday and Friday, then was out of town all day Saturday. When I arrived back home after 7:00pm Saturday, I found a card from an old friend in my mailbox. The card read, “God is good, all the time.” Inside, the printed card continued, “All the time, God is good.” My friend had selected the card some days ago and sent it to me from another city, not knowing what passages I would be preaching. I was delighted that God seemed to indicate that my sermon was pleasing to Him!

Our Scripture lessons today all emphasize the goodness of our God.

A. Our Old Testament lesson comes from Isaiah 62:1-5. In it, God uses the metaphor of a bridegroom’s love for His bride to describe His love for Jerusalem—and, by extension—for us, because, thanks to Jesus, we have been grafted into His Chosen People. Despite their repeated (and current) rejection of Him, God promises the Jews that at Jesus’ 2nd Coming, He will delight in Jerusalem (He and Jesus will take up residence there); He will give her a new name—indicating a new character pleasing to God; He will marry Himself to her (not in a sexual way but indicating an intimate knowledge of her for Him and Him for her); and He will be present to her, protect her, and delight in her.

Doesn’t this just beautifully and convincingly demonstrate the loving kindness, the goodness of our God? He never gives up on us. As the prophet Jeremiah affirms in 29:11–For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.

B. Similarly, Psalm 36:5-10, written by King David, extolls the goodness of the Lord toward all His creatures, human and otherwise:

Verse 5 praises God’s love and faithfulness towards us. Verse 6 applauds His righteousness and justice toward us. Verse 7 acclaims Him as our refuge when we need one—…both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. This image of wings echoes Exodus 19:4 where God tells Moses to remind the Israelites🡪You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. It’s also present in Matthew 23:37 where Jesus mourns His rejection by His people O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you were not willing. “Under her wings” is the place of protection and security; and “under [His] wings” is the place of warmth and rest.

Verses 8-10 celebrate His abundant provision for us, in images of profuse feasting and drinking. Again, the Scriptures proclaim the goodness of God.

C. Our Gospel reading, John 2:1-11, describes Jesus’ and His mother’s response to a lack at a country wedding. Jesus may have attended many weddings over the course of His earthly life, but this one took place at Cana, a village just over the hill from Nazareth. Weddings, then like now, were joyous occasions. In small villages, everyone was invited. There was feasting and dancing. Sometimes the celebration lasted several days. If a couple were poor, there was a real danger of running out of food and wine. Wine to them was a staple with meals. Perhaps the alcohol content helped kill bacteria in their unfiltered water. But drunkenness was universally condemned.

The couple does run out of wine, and they are about to be publically embarrassed. Mary, Jesus’ mother, brings their dilemma to His attention. She says (v.3), They have no more wine. Jesus responds (v.4), Dear woman, why do you involve Me? Scholars are undecided about why she would ask Him to do something for them in this setting. Some believe she was asking Jesus and His 12 to leave, thus lessening the demand. Others speculate she was asking Him to preach in order to distract the guests—but even if He did so, the folks attending would still require food and drink. Still others suggest she wanted Him to vindicate her publically, thinking if He performed a miracle for them, He would prove He was God as she had maintained all of her life. But I think she, as His mother, knew His capabilities. I know my engineer son. He can teach me about computers, but he cannot fix my clogged drains. We mothers often know very well what our kids can and cannot do. Mary clearly had empathy for the couple, and she knew her son and trusted that He could rectify the situation. Jesus, on the other hand, knew this would “out Him,” so He was reluctant to perform a miracle—He says, My time has not yet come. Later in John’s Gospel He will say He only does what He sees His Father doing. But in this case, I think He honored His mother by taking care of things:

First, He has them gather 6 large water jars. Each, set aside for ritual purification, held 20-30 gallons. Then He quietly transforms the water into the best wine ever! 6X20=120 gallons; 6X30=180 gallons. What an exceptionally generous amount of especially delicious wine! The wedding planner is stunned! In this transformation, Jesus has just offered what John calls “a sign” of His divinity—by His will alone, He can convert one form of matter into another.

D. We know from this side of the Cross that Jesus only did what His heavenly Father told Him to do. So, why unveil His divinity at a wedding? Remember, our Isaiah lesson (62:1-5) uses the metaphor of a bridegroom’s love for his bride to describe God’s love for us. A portion of our Psalm 36:5-10 celebrates God’s love for us in images of feasting and drinking—like at a wedding reception. The 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 passage lists 9 spiritual gifts potentially given to those of us who love Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Now Paul provides 3 lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians and in Romans. There are some differences among these lists. But this one cites miraculous powers. Jesus demonstrated miraculous powers at the Cana wedding. Some believe this signaled His endorsement of the marital union. Other Biblical experts assert that Jesus took something old and battered (the jugs/water pots) and filled them with something new designed to meet their needs: He took a good thing from the past—water—and turned it into a good thing for the future–really excellent wine. This way, we can begin to see the wine as a metaphor for the generous blessings of God. Whatever the truth of the matter, in solving the problem of the wine deficit, Jesus demonstrated God’s love, compassion, generosity, and His goodness.

By the way, did you know that Welch’s Grape Juice was originally created as a non-alcoholic, alternative communion wine? Prior to branching out into jams and jellies, Mr. Welch, a Methodist dentist from the 1800’s, wanted something that looked like wine but lacked its alcohol content to serve at his church communion. Some denominations use real wine; others, like us, use grape juice. I have attended a Lutheran Church which served both, the grape juice as an alternative for kids and for recovering alcoholics.

If you have trouble getting your mind around the concept that God is good—especially when you wonder about the bumps, dings, assaults, and calamities you may have experienced in this life– consider this true story recounted by Richella J. Parham in her 2019 book titled, Mythical Me (pp. 58-59, IVPress):

As I was talking with my friend Robin one day, she told me of a good deed she had done, then she stopped and said, “Of course, I know I’m just a sinner.” I then asked Robin, who has a young-adult daughter, to describe her daughter to me in twenty-five words or less. I watched as my friend’s eyes lit up and her lips tilted into a smile. “She’s beautiful. She’s fierce and wise. She’s a lover of Jesus, a friend to all, and a defender of the poor. She is my inspiration.” (Robin is very good with words.)

“Why didn’t you describe your daughter as a black-hearted buzzard?” I asked. “Isn’t she?”

“Why not?’ I queried.

“Because I love her,” came the reply.

“And why do you love her?” I pressed.

“Because she’s my daughter,” came the quick answer from my friend, now wearing a puzzled look.

“If this is how you feel about your daughter, how do you suppose your Father in heaven feels about you?” I asked, knowing the answer.

As Ms. Parham writes, compared to God, we are all black-hearted buzzards to some degree. But praise God, He sees the good in us besides, and loves us because He is good. Remember, He doesn’t send the bumps, dings, assaults, and calamities upon us–Satan does! The Lord, however, promises to be present with us in our struggles. God is good, all the time; All the time, God is good. To God be the glory!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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Certain Hope

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 28, 2021

Scriptures: Jer33:14-16; Ps 25:1-10; 1 Thess 3:9-13; Lk 21:25-36

As I was listening to our anthem being sung this morning, the Lord changed my sermon. YIKES! I really don’t like last minute alterations—I feel unprepared– but I have to be obedient as He knows best. He wanted me to change the first story. He wanted me to tell you about George Muller. George was a German missionary from about the time of Charles Dickens (early 1800’S). He thought he was meant to go evangelize Jews, but the Lord told him, “No, I want you to go to England.” George did as he was told and discovered the huge number of orphans on the streets of London. If you’ve read Oliver Twist or David Copperfield, you know that Dickens did a great job of bringing the plight of abandoned children into public consciousness. George and his wife founded 5 or 6 orphanages, paid for entirely by donations and as a result of his intense prayer-times. Over the span of his life, he improved the plight of thousands of British orphans by feeding and housing them, teaching them about Jesus, educating them, and training them for trades or for service jobs. He rarely told anyone what he was praying for, but he experienced God answering his prayers, time after time. In his brief autobiography, he tells of having no bread or milk for breakfast for 250 orphans. He prayed for God’s supply and soon heard that a bakery truck had stopped with day old bread to offer for free. Immediately after, a mild wagon came by with extra milk to give away. The orphans were fed for another dad

I tell this story because George Muller had hope in God’s supply that was certain. He would send up a prayer and wait to see what God would do.

Now, having to wait is tough for most of us–for both kids as well as grownups. We look for the shortest lines in the grocery store or at Walmart, so we don’t have to wait. This time of year, we often have to wait at the P.O, the gas station, or even for parking spaces at the mall. And, of course, we wait on the arrival of Christmas! Few of us appear to be as positive and upbeat about waiting as was George Muller.

Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent, a time of waiting on the arrival of Jesus. We prepare for His 1st Coming, at Christmas, as a helpless infant. He arrived in a small Hebrew backwater town, with a mission to save a sin-sick and lost world. We also await His 2nd Coming, when He will return to earth as a triumphant, all powerful king. His mission at that future time will be to judge the world and to create a heavenly, peaceful order. Our Scriptures today speak to both of Advents or Comings:

1. In Jeremiah 33:14-16, the prophet reminds us that the promised Messianic King (Jesus) will be coming. He will come from a righteous branch of King David’s family tree (a promise God made to David 1000 years earlier). This Messiah will save His people. Jumping ahead to the End Times, Jesus will be called “The Lord Our Righteousness.” At His Second Coming, Jerusalem will Live in safety. It doesn’t now, but it will then.

2. Our Psalm 25:1-10 is a plea from King David for God’s protection and love. In it David suggests that God has a purpose as He makes us wait: Waiting provides time/opportunity

a. To learn His ways more clearly (v.4) Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths.

c. To ask for His mercy, love, and forgiveness;

b. To trust in Him more deeply;

d. And to cling to hope due to His great faithfulness.

We can develop these skills by reading Scripture daily; by frequently praying to or talking with God; by remembering those times when God has shown up in our lives (These are usually pretty unique to each of us. I think it’s important to write them down on a 3×5 card and tape them to your bathroom mirror or to your car dashboard so you remember them—especially when you feel discouraged); and by hearing/reading the experiences others, like George Muller, have had with God. Remember our encounters with Christ, and those of others, helps to deepen and strengthen our faith, resulting in certain hope.

3. Our lesson from 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 teaches us two other benefits of waiting: God uses the time to strengthen a heart of holiness in each of us. Waiting has been called “the crucible of the saints.” As we wait, God is molding/shaping our characters. He is also teaching us to abound in love; that is, to love Him and to love others better.

4. In our Gospel lesson, Luke 21:25-36, Jesus gives us a few more clues as to what we can expect before His 2nd Coming: Just as buds on trees broadcast the coming of spring, we will know the end is near when, according to Peterson’s The Message It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers that be quaking. Heavenly bodies [stars, planets, our moon], will be shaken, doing never-before-seen things. Worldwide, people will fear the roaring and tossing of the sea. This may mean an increase in the frequency and severity of hurricanes, typhoons, and tsunamis. While God has promised never again to flood the whole earth, He still might allow frightening incursions of water into previously dry territory. I remember learning, when I lived in New Orleans, that the state of Louisiana tends to lose about 2.5 feet of beach to the Gulf of Mexico per year!

No matter what means He uses to signal the end, everyone—but especially non-believers–will be freaked. The Son of Man (Jesus’ favorite name for Himself) will come on a cloud. He will arrive with power and with great glory. Believers can and should rejoice!

We have every reason to Hope in Christ! Additionally, our hope can be certain, sure, accurate.

Our Lord Jesus taught in parables, stories, so let me share two stories of hope:

The first comes from the pen of Bernard Baruch (financial advisor to 2 wartime US presidents, Wilson and FDR) “A man sentenced to death obtained a reprieve by assuring the king he would teach his majesty’s horse to fly within the year–on the condition that if he didn’t succeed, he would be put to death at the end of the year. “Within a year,” the man explained later, “the king may die, or I may die, or the horse may die. Furthermore, in a year, who knows? Maybe the horse will learn to fly.” The story is funny, but the man did see 4 possible reasons for a reprieve from death. Despite how improbable each was, he had hopel

The second is from Bits and Pieces, 1991 The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work during stays in the city’s hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the [homebound] program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child’s name and room number and talked briefly with the child’s regular class teacher. “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now,” the regular teacher said, “and I’d be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn’t fall too far behind.”

The [homebound] teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, “I’ve been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs.” When she left she felt she hadn’t accomplished much.

But the next day, a nurse asked her, “What did you do to that boy?” The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. “No, no,” said the nurse. “You don’t know what I mean. We’ve been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s as though he’s decided to live.”

Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the [homebound] teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?” The boy interpreted the arrival of the homebound teacher as a reason to hope. As the old hymn states, Our hope is set on nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness!

We can, with confidence, hope in Jesus Christ because we know He came to rescue us from the penalty for our sins and to gain for us eternal life. Out of His great love for us, He left His heavenly prerogatives and became incarnate—took on flesh! So, this Advent Season, we celebrate His incarnation, His birthdate, at Christmas.

And because He accomplished these Biblical promises on His first trip here, fulfilling about 325 Old Testament prophesies, we can, with confidence, trust that He will come a second time, in glory, just as He predicted. In other words, if He fulfilled 325 prophesies about His earthly life on the first go-round, we can have certain hope that he will come again to fulfill the remaining 25 Old Testament prophesies. Amen and amen!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Where are We Left?

Pastor Sherry’s message for 10/19/2021

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

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

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

What can I do?” asked Taylor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, we should be grateful!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

PASSING MARKS

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 10, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

God’s Grace versus Cancel Culture

Pastor Sherry’s Message for 8/30/2020

Scriptures: Ex 3:1-15; Ps 105:23-26; Ro 12:9-21; Matt 16:21-28

Recently I came across 2 examples of our current “cancel culture” at work. With the “cancel culture,” you are only as good as your social media account messages are PC.  Step out of line and your reputation is destroyed, while your future is threatened.

The first concerned a Jordanian-American named Natasha Tynes.  Tynes had researched and written about threats to free speech and a free press in Egypt and then had faced persecution in Egypt for it.  Back in the states again, she was riding the DC-area subway, the Metro, when she saw a transit worker eating in the train.  There are signs posted everywhere prohibiting this behavior, so Natasha confronted the worker and pointed out that she was violating the rules.  The worker rudely blew her off! Natasha said she frequently rides the subway hungry and so was frustrated that a person with the power to fine her for eating was herself violating the rules.  As a result, Natasha wrote a letter of complaint to the transit authorities, asking that they take some disciplinary action.  

She probably should have left the matter there, but she also “tweet-shamed” her by calling the woman out on line, including a picture of her eating on the train. Some 45 minutes later, Natasha rethought what she had done and deleted her tweet.  She also apologized on line for her actions, admitting she had responded out of a “short-lived expression of frustration.  In addition, she wrote the transit authority to ask them to overlook her complaint.  But the Twitter Mob turned on her, calling her “Metro-Molly.”  Ms. Tyne’s publisher learned of this “temptest in a teapot” and decided not to print her latest book. They claimed she had done “something truly horrible” and excused their decision to renege on their contract because Natasha “had threatened the transit worker’s health and safety.  What?

The second incident concerned that vocal young man from the Parkland high school shooting, Kyle Kashuv. We saw him interviewed on TV a number of times.  He received several offers of scholarships to college and turned them all down to attend Harvard.  Later, word got back to Harvard, via some of his classmates that Kashuv–a Jewish conservative–had made anti-semetic and racist comments in a private online chat back when he was 16 years old.  The young man apologized publically.  He even wrote a Harvard dean to admit his responsibility and to ask for forgiveness.

David French of the National Review reported that Kashuv did “everything we want a young man to do when he’s done something wrong.”  Nevertheless, Harvard believed his email remarks from several years younger were too egregious to forgive, and rescinded his admission.

 Recently, Kellyanne Conway resigned as advisor to the President when her 15 year old daughter “tweet-shamed” her and her husband on line.  I am not trying to draw in politics here.  Rather, I am making the point that people feel all too free to call one another out on line.  This teen has hurt her parents very publically by defaming their reputations.  I wonder how she will feel about this when she is 25 or 35, or a parent herself. Sadly, this child has not learned to live out Paul’s admonitions from Romans 12: V.14àBless those who [you believe] persecute you; bless and do not curse; v.16àLive in harmony with one another; and v.17+àDo not repay [even perceived] evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

This is where we are now.  A mistake, a lapse in judgment, can cost you everything today.  Thank God our Lord does not operate by cancel culture rules!  Let’s look at two He could have chosen to cancel, but didn’t, in today’s scripture passages:

First, we have Moses (Ex 3:1-15).  Last week, we saw this Hebrew slave kid rescued from the Nile, to be raised in Pharaoh’s own household.

By this week, he has advanced to the age of 40, and realized God has tapped him to champion his people, the Jews.  Without waiting on God’s direction, however, he kills an Egyptian overseer for beating a Hebrew slave. His own people, seeing him dressed as an Egyptian, fail to trust him, fearing he is an Egyptian murderer.  Furthermore, Pharaoh hears of the incident and wants to arrest him.  So Moses flees Egypt into the desert.  By attempting to do what he thought he should do, He finds himself driven away.

 He reaches Midian and rescues the 7 daughters of Reuel who were also doing what they were supposed to do—watering their sheep.  Moses observed some rowdy male shepherds attempting to push them aside to water their animals first.  Moses rescues the ladies and sends the ruffians packing.  Subsequently, he marries the eldest, Zipporah; soon has a son, Gershom (whose name means “sojourner” or “alien”—kinda suggests how Moses feels about living in Midian); and tends sheep, for another 40 years. Like King David, later, he is going to be called from tending a flock of animals to shepherding God’s people.

 In today’s passage, he encounters God (the preincarnate Christ) in aburning bush that does not burn up.  He is told to take his shoes off becausehe is in the presence of God, which makes the ground they are on holyindeed.  God calls him by name twice (make no mistake, our God knows our names!).  God also reveals who He is:  The God of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God shares that His name is, I am who I am; or, as some translations say, I will be who I will be.   In other words, as the passage states, He is the God who sees, thinks, hears, knows,remembers, and intervenes for His people.

God also reaffirms Moses’ call to deliver the Hebrew slaves from Egyptian bondage.  Notice, God has not canceled him due to having murdered an Egyptian.  Instead God has hidden him out, in the back of the beyond for 40 years, so that the Pharaoh who sought to arrest him has had time to die and be replaced.  Additionally, those Israelite slaves who witnessed the murder have also passed on. God has made sure it is safe for Moses to return to Egypt.  And Moses has learned to wait on God.

Our Psalm mentions how God sent Moses, His servant, to set His people free.

 Now, let’s jump to our Gospel lesson from Matt 16:21-28.  Last week, we read how Peter confessed what the Holy Spirit had revealed to him:  that Jesus was/is the Messiah.  This week, Jesus begins to educate the Twelve regarding what God’s Messiah will do.  Despite their personal beliefs and expectations of Messiah, Jesus says He will die on a Roman cross, condemned by His own; He will die to redeem those very folks and all the rest of us too.  Like Moses before Him, Jesus is a shepherd, our shepherd and a deliverer, our deliverer.  Understandably, Rocky (Peter) is horrified! Like Moses, he gets ahead of himself.  Rather than taking in what Jesus is saying, he tries to talk Him out of it.  YIKES, Peter!  We don’t get to tell God what to do.  Jesus has just praised Rocky, but now he really tears into him—

He calls His dear friend Satan!  He rightly accuses him of interfering with God’s plan.  Whether he or we like it or not, God’s plan appears to require that we (v.24) deny [ourselves, our self-will], take up [our] Cross and follow [Jesus].  Like so many of us, Peter hears from God but he is also motivated by selfish self-interest and perhaps beguiled by the evil one.

 We know the outcome of both stories:  Moses leads the people out of Egypt—even though they wander in the desert for 40 years.  And Peter becomes a dynamic, faith-filled leader of the new Christian Church. God had grace, mercy, and forgiveness for them both!

What would have happened to Moses or to Peter—Rocky–if our Lord operated by the rules of cancel culture?  Cancel culture assumes—impossibly—that you can never make a mistake.  No grace or mercy is allowed for immaturity, anger, impetuousness.  Cancel Culture believes, Once a sinner, always a sinner.   You cannot even apologize and be forgiven.  As we have seen in the examples of Natasha, Kyle, and the Conways, judgment is swift and forgiveness is withheld!  Furthermore, cancel culture ruins the person’s future—despite a very productive present–based on one lapse in judgment or a perceived wrong response. 

Aren’t we glad our God does not operate that way?  Our God is characterized by love, grace, and mercy.  He keeps His promises and He forgives our sins.  He reinstates us. He uses us once we realize we cannot work out His program in our own strength.  Instead, we operate in His strength, surrendered to His will.  Thanks be to God that He has such patience, such forgiveness, such mercy for us.

This week, I challenge you to pray for Natasha Tynes and Kyle Kashuv, and any other victims of the media mob and the cancel culture.  Pray for peace and reconciliation between the senior Conways and their 15 year old daughter.  Let’s also be aware of God’s mercy.  And let’s be grateful that there is no cancel culture with our Lord!

 

c 2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

 

Truth Stranger Than Fiction

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 5, 2020

Scriptures: Gen 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Ps 45:10-17; Ro 7:15-25a; Matt 11:16-19, 25-30

A nine year old boy was asked by his mother what he had learned that day in Sunday School. “Well mom,” he said, “our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  When he got to the Red Sea, he had his army build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely.  Then he radioed headquarters for reinforcements.  They sent bombers to blow up the bridge after the Israelites were saved.   Pharaoh’s chariot guys all drowned.

Mom asked, “Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?”

Well no, Mom,” the boy declared in exasperation, “but if I told it the way the teacher did, you’d never believe it!”

 

Today, we have another Old Testament story that defies logic, unless you believe in a God of miracles.  Remember Isaac, the miraculous “child of promise,” born to parents aged 100 and 90?  Last week, we examined how God demanded that Abraham sacrifice this child to Him, but also rescued Isaac at the last minute by providing a ram to take his place.

Isaac is one of the 4 patriarchs of our faith, but Scripture only gives us a very few glimpses of him.  Nevertheless, we can infer that he was a good son, because he was obedient to his father Abraham—even given the threat of death.  And today’s passage reveals him as a man of faith, praying to God as his bride arrives on a camel.

Let’s examine the story in more depth, as I believe it reveals some principles we can live by today.  Abraham is concerned that Isaac have a wife…(v.1) now Abraham was now old and well advanced in years….He calls his trusty servant (Eliezar?) and tells him to journey to NW Mesopotamia (Syria) to find a good woman from among his extended clan (the people he left behind to follow God).  He does not want Isaac to marry a pagan Canaanite woman.  Nor does he want Isaac to journey outside the Land.  The servant prays to Abraham’s God and suggests a fairly complex sign by which he might recognize God’s choice of a bride for Isaac:  (1) She will offer him water to drink; (2) She will even draw water for his 10 camels; And (3) She will offer traditional ancient middle eastern hospitality including water for the feet; food/refreshments; and overnight accommodations for him and his animals.

When he arrives at the appropriate village, the servant encounters a beautiful young woman who does exactly that.  She gives him water.  She draws water for his animals.  She invites him home to meet her family and to partake of their hospitality.  This woman is Rebekah, Abraham’s great-niece, the virgin granddaughter of his brother.

Now of all the towns the servant could have visited, what are the chances that he would run into Abraham’s kin?  What are the chances that they would still even be alive?  God has clearly superintended this journey.  The servant recognizes this and offers praise and thanksgiving to God: (v.26)–Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, saying, ”Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master.  As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my masters’ relatives.”

This woman, Rebekah, is clearly God’s choice for Isaac.  The servant tells her the story of how he decided to approach her—he’d asked God for a sign.  She doesn’t seem to have difficulty believing him. And he gives her a ring and two gold bracelets, as proof of Abraham’s wealth.  Her brother, Laban, shows up, hears the story, and also invites the servant home.  Once again, the servant shares his instructions with everyone.  Probably Rebekah is somewhere, outside the tent, listening in as the story is retold.  Everyone seems to agree she is God’s choice of a bride for Isaac.  Additionally, the servant has also filled them in on Isaac’s miraculous birth and his divine rescue.  The family appears to be impressed with the costly gifts he has bestowed on the maiden, signifying that Abraham is indeed as wealthy she the servant has claimed.  The bride-price is agreed upon, but by the next morning the family appears to back off a bit.

In an intimation of things to come—Uncle Laban will later renege on his agreement with Jacob, Rebekah’s as yet unborn son–the family urges the servant to wait another 10 days before departing.  Maybe they want to drive the bride-price up a bit.  No doubt concerned for Abraham’s age and health, the servant urges an immediate departure, with no delay.  Interestingly, the family suggests that Rebekah be consulted.  From what she’s heard and experienced, the young woman is ready to go! Maybe she fears her wily brother will somehow interfere with her opportunity.  Whatever the case, she is prepared to go off with a servant she barely knows, to a country she’s never seen, to meet a husband she’s only heard of.  What a brave young woman and what an adventure!

What principles might this story hold for us today?  1st, we note the faithfulness of the servant.  He’s given his word to Abraham to do his best; but otherwise he has no stake in the outcome.  Nevertheless, he works hard to fulfill his word.  He prays for the Lord’s favor.  He diligently repeats his instructions from Abe.  He obviously does not want to mess up!

This servant also moves at the leading of God, rather than his own fleshly desires or his fears.  He is willing to carry out the task his master, Abraham has given him and he appeals to Abraham’s God for help.  This is the antidote to our sinful fleshly desires, as given expression by Paul in Romans 7:15-25a.  The antidote to our self-will is obedience—obedience to Christ, cooperating with the transforming power of His Holy Spirit.

The example of this unnamed servant is about 4,000 years old.  2,000 years later, Jesus will say, Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.

We are to keep our word.  Like Eliezer, we are to say what we mean and mean what we say.  This is the kind of behavior that helps others to trust us.

Second, I am struck with the willingness of Rebekah.  She doesn’t know Abraham from Adam’s house cat.  She is looking at marrying a dude she’s only just heard of and never seen. She will be making her home far away from her family, probably never seeing them again.  What convinces her to take the risk of leaving everything she has ever known?  Perhaps it was hearing the servant relate the miraculous nature of Isaac’s birth. No doubt she also heard the story of his almost-sacrificial death, and been impressed with the fact that—while he could have overwhelmed his father’s strength, and taken himself off the altar–he instead chose to be obedient to and respectful of his father.  Maybe she rightfully understood that Isaac was special to God and wished to link her future to such an esteemed man.

And, if she were a woman of faith, she might have been able to see and understand how God had indeed chosen her to be Isaac’s mate.  After all, the servant had asked for a complex set of signs; and, without any prior knowledge of them, she had fulfilled each one.

I don’t know if you have ever experienced God providing you a sign, but I have.  My best buddy in seminary came from the Chicago area.  She was trying to verify if God was truly calling her to seminary.  She was walking the shores of Lake Michigan and asked God to affirm her call by proving a green rock among all the gray ones.  She was amazed and delighted to minutes later encounter a green rock—the only green rock–on the shore.  Not only that, the green rock was shaped like a triangle.  She understood this mean she was to attend Trinity out of the other 10 seminaries in our denomination.  Similarly, I asked God for direction as to which seminary He wanted me to attend.  I was living in Tallahassee, Florida, then.  Rarely does anyone in Tallahassee ever hear of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Trinity is located.  For weeks, my daughter and I were inundated with what we called our “Pittsburgh signs”:  PA license plates, bumper stickers for the Steelers or the Penguins; movies we rented that had been filmed in Pittsburgh or which featured the city; and magazine articles in doctor’s or dentist’s offices on some aspect of life in Pittsburgh. We laughingly told God we got it and He could stop the signs anytime. We were not too surprised when they dried up immediately!

Several years after arriving at seminary, my best buddy and I attended a healing conference.  We shared a motel room while there and I awoke one night to hear her crying.  She was in crisis, doubting her call, and worried she would graduate with a Masters of Divinity, but be unable to locate a Bishop willing to ordain her.  By this time I knew her well, was convinced she was called to ordained ministry, and—coming under conviction–told her she was not to look to the left or the right, or to listen to the opinions of people, but to keep her eyes on the Cross of Christ  She was to trust that the Lord had indeed called her. The next morning, while serving us communion, the lead pastor of the healing ocnference spoke directly to her and said, “You are not to look to the left or to the right, or to listen to the opinions of people, but to keep your eyes on the Cross of Christ.  You have been called into ministry and Jesus will see you through.”  She felt affirmed by this marvelous sign and so did I.  These experiences taught me that we can ask God for signs and He will and does respond.

Our Genesis lesson today has a happy ending.  It’s actually a love story!  Rebekah gets on her camel and rides to Israel and to Isaac.  The evening she arrives, Isaac is out praying.  He sees her and is intrigued.  She sees him, leaps off her camel (she’s impressively energetic, isn’t she?), and wraps herself in her veil, thus indicating she is a single woman.  The servant then relates the entire saga to Isaac.  Isaac obviously sees Rebekah as God’s answer to his prayers (& his father’s plans).  Verse 67 tells us, Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah [now dead], and he married Rebekah.  So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

In a number of ways, this story is stranger than fiction, but I believe the lessons are pretty clear:  (1) We want to be faithful to God; (2) We can ask Him for a sign; (3) We want to say yes to whatever He arranges for us; and (4) We can trust that there is a reward for our obedience.  Our God is good.  He desires our love and devotion to Him.  He takes good care of those who love and obey Him.  Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!  Alleluia! Alleluia!

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Live Like Easter People, People of Hope

Pastor Sherry’s message for April 19, 2020

Scripture lessons: 4/19/2020, Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20: 19-31

This week, in an on-line message meant to encourage us, our Methodist Bishop Ken Carter, quoted one of his early mentors, a fellow named Ken Callahan: “We are the people of the empty tomb, the risen Lord, the new life in Christ. We are the Easter people. We are the people of hope.” What does that mean to you and to me? To think of ourselves as “Easter People” and “People of hope?” On this first Sunday after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, these questions deserve our consideration. And, as usual, the Scripture passages appointed for today provide useful direction. Let’s check them out together.

         You may have noticed that after Easter Sunday, the usual Old Testament reading is often replaced by a lesson from the Acts of the Apostles.  This is because the book of Acts records the actions of the first Christian Church leaders.  Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven, the new faith became known as “The Way.”  The initial progress of “The Way”—its first 30 years–is recounted for us in Acts.  Acts 2: 14a, 22-32 records a portion of Peter‘s first sermon.  He is speaking to believing Jews only, Jews who have come from all over the Mediterranean world to Jerusalem, to celebrate Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus has left terra firma.  The Holy Spirit has suddenly come upon 120 Christ-followers and has empowered them for ministry.  At the Temple, they break forth into a jubilant and noisy celebration, speaking in many previously (to them) unknown languages, and those who hear them believe they may be drunk from carousing.  After all, it is only 9:00 in the morning!  But Peter launches into a Holy Spirit-inspired speech, boldly proclaiming Jesus’ identity as God’s Son, as demonstrated by His resurrection from the dead (vv.22-24): Men of Israel, listen to this:  Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the crossBut God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.  Peter is explaining to the crowd exactly what had happened to Jesus. 

         He goes on to recite a portion of Psalm 16 (8-11), a Song of the Resurrection.  Again, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter interprets this psalm of David as pertaining to Jesus Christ.  We don’t know if King David even realized at the time he composed it that he was foretelling the resurrection of Jesus; but—from this side of the Cross—we can comprehend that the lines he penned refer not to himself, but to our Lord: (8) I have set the LORD [God, the Father] always before Me.  Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  (9) Therefore My heart is glad and My tongue rejoices; My body will also rest secure, (10) because You [Father] will not abandon Me [Jesus]  to the grave, nor will You let Your Holy One see decay. (11) You have made known to Me the path of life; You will fill Me with joy in Your presence, and with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.  Clearly King David is not referring to himself, as his bones were buried on Mt. Zion years before and had not made a reappearance since.  Instead, Peter is referring to King David’s descendant, Jesus.  In other words, Peter is saying verse 8 describes Jesus’ earthly life; verses 9-10, His death and resurrection, and verse 11, His ascension.  Later on in (Acts 13:34-37), Paul quotes these same verses from Psalm 16, attesting to the fact that King David died and decayed in his grave, while Jesus was raised whole, neither deteriorated nor decomposed.

So, our first two lessons today reiterate the facts of the resurrection, both prophesied and fulfilled. Perhaps, then, our 1st lesson in what it is to be an Easter people, a People of Hope, is to tell others about Jesus’s death and resurrection (I recommend you first check with the Holy Spirit to determine if He is prompting you, as He best knows who out there is ready to listen and receive). The 2nd lesson, I believe could be derived from Peter’s life and example. When he walked with Jesus, Peter had been brash, impetuous, boastful, larger than life—all traits of someone who could have become a bully. Instead, having been chastened by Christ and realizing how he had failed his Lord, Peter assumes the mantle of leadership in “The Way” as a self-effacing, humble, obedient, but also confident servant of Jesus Christ. In the portion of his letter that we read today, 1 Peter 1:3-9, he celebrates our inheritance through Jesus and encourages us to hold up under our earthly sufferings [from Peterson’s modern paraphrase, “The Message”]:

What a God we have!  And how fortunate we are to have Him, the Father of our Master Jesus!  Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now!  God is keeping a careful watch over us and the future.  The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.

I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime.  Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine.  When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold,  that God will have on display as evidence of His victory.

You never saw Him, yet you love Him.  You still don’t see Him, yet you trust Him—with laughter and singing.  Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.

 Easter People, People of Hope, do trust in God’s love for us and we love Him in return.  We are people of faith who rely upon God’s care for us.  We don’t have to fear the Wuhan Corona Virus, economic collapse, or the isolation our “sheltering at home” and “social distancing” have created for us.  These things are transitory sufferings, or “every kind of aggravation.”  These earthly threats and annoyances do not carry the value that eternal truths do.  If we are to live as Easter People, People of Hope, we put our trust in God and in Jesus, not in newscasters or politicians or world events.  This is not to say we remain ignorant.  We want to stay informed, but we also want to be confident—like Peter—and calm.  As Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:7, For God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power, of love, and of self-discipline.

Finally, our Gospel from John 20:19-31 provides us the example of Thomas. This is the Apostle Thomas who would not believe Jesus had been resurrected on the strength of the unanimous reports of his ten closest buddies.  He insisted he had to see for himself before he would believe that Jesus was alive.  So a week later, Jesus appears to all of them, Thomas included, and invites the skeptic to see for himself.  Notice, Jesus doesn’t condemn him for his doubts. Jesus patiently granted permission to Thomas to put his fingers in the scars on His hands and in His side, to see the nail holes in His feet.  The Bible doesn’t record whether or not Thomas actually felt Christ’s wounds.  Thomas seems to have gotten it as soon as he saw the risen Jesus.  That makes total sense to me.  What is even more amazing–and reassuring–to me, however, is that Jesus doesn’t expect Thomas, or us, to park our intellect at the church door.  Instead, He demonstrates in this encounter with Thomas that He is prepared to meet us where we are.  And, if our hearts are willing, and our spiritual eyes are open, He will reveal to us that He is alive and victorious!

Easter People, People of Hope in the Risen Christ, believe Jesus Christ is alive—even if we have not seen Him with our physical eyes.  We can experience Him through the pages of Scripture.  We can and do come to hear from Him in our prayer life.  We see evidence of His love and care for us in everything from locating a convenient parking place in a downpour, to realizing He has answered our specific prayer, to acknowledging He has shaped circumstances to protect us, to correct us, or to bless us.  Easter People, People of Hope, see Christ at work in events and happenings around us.  Recent research in Neuroscience tells us that our brain’s natural default process is to think negatively about most things.  As a result, and if we want to be happy or content, we must intentionally practice thinking positively to overcome this natural, but unhealthy, tendency. 

This week, let us try to focus on seeing God’s hand at work around us.  Let’s look for evidence of His action in our lives with our “spiritual eyes”—eyes informed by His Holy Spirit rather than our own rods, cone, retinas, and optic nerves.  Let us not allow the news or world events to drive us into fear or panic.  Instead, let us place our faith in the God who loves us and who is alive and on the throne.  Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

*Addendum: Friends of mine (Dr. Sarah and Rev. Jon Hall) have just written and perform a song touching on today’s readings. If you like, you can go to the following YouTube link to listen to “If There Ever was Hope.” The singer and commentator, Sarah, attended seminary with me. She has a Ph.D. in Old Testament and met her husband, Jon, a Brit, while completing her studies in England. Jon is one of the two founding pastors of Incarnation Anglican Church near the Florida State University campus in Tallahassee, Florida. He is the one accompanying his wife on piano. May this wonderful music (and art) bless you!

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Palm Sunday, 2020

Pastor Sherry’s Message for April 5, 2020

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalms 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14—27:66

         Some of us are old enough to remember a book that came out in 1984 called Future Shock.  In it the author, Alvin Toffler, cited a dizzying array of changes that had already occurred in the world back then, and proclaimed—accurately so—that the rate of change in the 20th century was increasing exponentially.  He predicted that people would become overwhelmed by the rate of change and would have difficulty orienting ourselves, let alone feeling secure, in what amounts to a cultural whirlwind or earthquake.  As I tune into the daily news reports on the Covid-19 virus, I am reminded of Toffler’s premise.  One day the experts tell us one thing; the next day, given new information, the previous perception has changed and been replaced by something new.  We can expect that our understandings of this pandemic will continue to modify as doctors and scientists gather more data and refine their predictive models.  Meanwhile, we are left coping with the usual anxiety surrounding life as we know it, to which has now been added the stress of a serious health risk and the threat of potential death.  How will we manage to maintain our footing, our balance, our sanity in these uncertain times? 

         As always, our God has some very useful, practical, and encouraging reminders for us in the Scriptures appointed for today.  I recommend you read the passage as I attempt both to explain it and to share its relevance as a counter to our mounting anxiety:

         Our Old Testament lesson is from the prophet Isaiah.  Chapter 50 (verses 4-9a) contains the 3rd of 4 passages known as the “Suffering Servant Songs.”  Between 750-700 years before Jesus was born, the prophet was describing—very accurately—what Jesus would experience and how He would behave as He faced and endured the Cross.  Prior to His crucifixion, the Jews believed these passages may have described the predicted Messiah, but most did not agree that they referred to Christ.  It is only from this side of the Cross that we realize they do refer to and were precisely fulfilled by Jesus.  The point of this 3rd Servant Song is that Jesus came to earth determined to save us; that is, that He came into the world to pay the penalty for and to redeem us from our sins.  To prepare Himself, He studied God’s Word, the Old Testament writings.  During the 30 years before His public ministry, He steeped Himself in Scripture (vv.4-5) We would say He was a “student of the Word.”  Verse 6 tells us that His trial by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious ruling body) led to significant suffering at the hands of His own chosen people.  They beat Him, mocked Him, spit upon His precious face, and even pulled out the hair of His beard—all prior to appearing before Pilate.  What sustained Him?  What allowed Him to endure all this?  He knew His purpose and He trusted in the Father to help Him:  (vv.7-9) Because the Sovereign LORD [the Father] helps Me, I will not be disgraced.  Therefore have I set My face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame…He who vindicates Me is near…it is the Sovereign LORD who helps me.  Jesus is reassuring Himself, though the prophet’s words, of the Father’s presence and the Father’s love.  This is what defines Him, not the attitudes, the condemnation, nor the despicable treatment of the religious authorities of His day. 

Such a lesson for us, isn’t it?  Do you see the trustworthiness of the Lord?  Thank God Jesus Christ is the once and for all sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 7:6-27)!  He paid the price for us!  His atoning death set us free from the penalty we deserved.  And Jesus did it believing in Scripture and trusting in His Father’s love.  May we cling to the promises of the Old and New Testaments, and may we hold onto our faith in our God—despite accelerating rates of change and worldwide pandemics!  May we exhibit faith like that of Jesus!

Psalm 31 was written by King David.  It describes how he felt during his tough times, both prior to and after ascending the throne of Israel.  But it also very aptly describes what Jesus probably suffered on the way to His crucifixion at Golgatha, and even as He hung suspended from the Cross:  (V.9) Be merciful to Me, O LORD, for I am in distress… (v.10) My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; My strength fails….(v.11) Because of My enemies, I am the utter contempt of My neighbors…(v.12) …I have become like broken pottery.  He is experiencing despair and grief.  But He does not succumb to it.  In verse 14, he reminds Himself, But I trust in You, O LORD.  I say, “You are my God.”  And He reaffirms for Himself, (v.15) My times are in Your hands.  These truths hold true for you and me as well.  I think it is safe to say that we hate to suffer.  However, suffering seems, like death, taxes, and change, inevitable in this life.  During times of suffering, we want to remember–like King David and like Jesus–that God’s got this!  God was not surprised by the virulence of this pandemic.  God knows that many of us are experiencing “cabin fever” while “sheltering in place.”  He knows we are worried about our health and about the economy, and are perhaps even stress-eating. Yikes!   We can trust in Him to sustain us through the most difficult times because He is only a prayer away (meaning He is present to us), He loves us, and He sent His only, beloved Son to die to save us.

St. Paul’s epistle to the Philippians (2:5-11) contains what the early Christian Church called “the Philippian Hymn.”  It was probably a statement that newly baptized Christians had to memorize as it succinctly summarizes exactly what Jesus did for us, and how the Father regarded His saving work on our behalf.  Paul wants us to be as humble and as obedient to the Father as Jesus was.  He also desires that we appreciate the depths of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf:  He gave up His heavenly prerogatives as King of the Universe, the One who spoke creation into existence, to be born in a stable, to a poor, young, homeless couple, in a ragtag and oppressed 2/3rds world nation.  Instead of demanding respect and a wide following as a great and exalted leader, He humbly behaved as a servant to all.  He obeyed His Father in everything, even up to and including His manner of death—totally righteous and holy, He died like a tortured, despised criminal.  No wonder the Father has honored Him above all things, declaring that His name commands total obedience, from every being, in every sphere!  Wow!  This reminds me of the lyrics of a Chris Tomlin song from sometime back a while ago:

Amazing love, O what sacrifice,

The Son of God given for me…

My debt He paid and my death He died,

That I might live…that I might live.

How amazing is God’s love for us!

         Finally, we have Matthew’s version of “the Passion of the Christ” (26:14-27:66), or what we know as the story of Jesus’ trials, crucifixion, and death.  It’s a long passage, but well worth reading and meditating upon during Holy Week.  It reminds us of the price our Lord paid for us, emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually.  He was “all in,” whereas Judas, Peter, the rest of the Apostles, the Jewish religious leadership, the mob, even Pilate all betrayed and abandoned Him.  Simon of Cyrene helped Him carry His cross (voluntarily or coerced, it’s unclear), the hardened, Roman centurian on execution detail (a Gentile) attested to His true identity, and a few devoted women (plus John, according to his Gospel) remained with Him until He gave up His spirit.  Notice that the Father registered His own grief with earthquakes, 3 hours of darkness, and splitting the heavy temple curtain (made of woven goat hair) from top to bottom.  Additionally He commemorated the completion of Jesus’ work by opening tombs, and offering a preview of the Big Easter Event by resurrecting (v.52) …many holy people.  The dead Christ was placed in His tomb, the stone sealed, and a detail set by Pilate to guard the grave.  What a journey from the noisy, Hosanna celebration of Palm Sunday to the quiet grief and despair of Good Friday!

         As Paul Harvey would have said, we know the rest of the story.  We know it doesn’t end there, with death having the last word.  Praise God!  When Jesus cried out from the Cross, (John 19:30) It is finished! (tetelestai), He meant that He had accomplished the work of redemption the Father had given Him to do.  All that is left is a kind of “mopping up detail” that we are living out today.  Jesus has demonstrated the truth of His name, God Saves.  Our God has done all the work of salvation for us.  The battle is over.  The victory has been won for us by Christ.  Again, thanks be to God who gives us the victory over sin and death, through our Lord, Jesus Christ.  All we have to do is say “yes” to Jesus.  All we have to do is allow Him to sit on the throne of our lives.  As we surrender to Him—just as He surrendered to His Father–He will bless us, guard us, protect us, and even resurrect us. 

         Yes, the world is changing at a hypersonic rate.  Many things we used to depend upon are uprooted or overturned or no longer reliable or even available.  In these anxiety-riddled and unstable times, Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:2-3).  We can trust in our God, despite any threats to the contrary.  This Holy Week, let us stand firm our faith that Jesus has the power to help us, to sustain us, and to keep us sane, safe, and secure.  AMEN! 

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams