Trinity Sunday

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 4, 2023

Scriptures: Gen 1:1-31, 2:1-4; Ps 8; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Matt 28:16-20

Today is Trinity Sunday, traditionally the first Sunday after Pentecost. Many people have come up with metaphors to explain the Trinity—one God in three separate persons—but each of these images falls short somehow. Explaining the Trinity proves to be very difficult. Consider this true story from St. Augustine (396 to 430), Bishop of Hippo or present day Algeria. Many experts today still consider him to be one of the premier theologians of the Christian Church. It is said that,

“One day when St. Augustine was at his wits’ end to understand and explain the Trinity, he went out for a walk. He kept turning over in his mind, “One God, but three Persons. Three Persons–not three Gods but one God. What does it mean? How can it be explained? How can my mind take it in?”

“And so he was torturing his mind and beating his brains out, when he saw a little boy on the beach. He approached him to see what he was doing. The child had dug a small hole in the sand. With his hands he was carrying water from the ocean and was dumping it in the little hole. St. Augustine asked, “What are you doing, my child?”

“The child replied, “I want to put all of the water of the ocean into this hole.”

“St. Augustine asked, “But is it possible for all of the water of this great ocean to be contained in this little hole?”

“And then it dawned on Augustine, “If the water of the ocean cannot be contained in this little hole, then how can the Infinite Trinitarian God be contained in your mind?”

(Borrowed from a sermon by Rev. Gordon Curley, dated November 29, 2010, archived on

Again, it is very difficult to explain the Trinity using images like a three-leaf clover (one plant, three leaves), an egg (shell, liquid, solid), or water (ice, fluid, steam) because while these speak to the separateness of the three, they do not adequately describe the unity, the relationships among the persons, or their cooperative work together.

John Wesley (1703-1791), the Anglican pastor who founded our Methodist Church, may have come close. He once used the following analogy to explain the doctrine of the Trinity: He said,

“Tell me how it is that in this room there are three candles and one light, and I will explain to you the mode of the triune God.” “Although each of the three persons of the Holy Community has his own distinct identity, all work together harmoniously as one God to accomplish salvation.”

(Borrowed from Pastor Glen Key from his March 2, 2011 sermon; archived on website

As it turns out, you won’t find the word Trinity in the Bible. People only began to use this term toward the end of the 2nd century. Theophilos, the Bishop of Antioch in 180 AD, used the term Trias to describe our one God in three persons. Later, the theologian Tertullian (155-220AD) who challenged many developing heresies in the early Church, changed the word to Trinitas. The church leaders who met in Nicea in 325 AD, and later in Constantinople in 381, set this reality as doctrine in the Nicene Creed. It’s a way of describing what the Bible tells us about the reality of God—in essence, One God, but formed of 3 distinct persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

But you will find citations of the three persons of the Trinity:

In John 10:30, Jesus says–>I and the Father are One. Later, in an epistle (1 John 5:7), John says For there are three that testify, the Father, the Word [Jesus], and the Spirit, and these three are one.

The Old Testament also mentions or implies the Triune nature of our God:

Job 33:6 refers to the Holy Spirit The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Isaiah 6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? [implying more than one person]. The Hebrews never adopted the custom exhibited by later European monarchs of referring to themselves in the plural. If the Hebrew passage said us, it meant literally more than one.

Isaiah also predicts the 1st Advent of Jesus, within Whom will reside many gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:1-2) A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse [lineage of King David]; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit [Holy Spirit] of the Lord [God the Father] will rest on Him [Jesus]—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.

Our Scriptures today all shine further light on the cooperative functions of the members of the Trinity:

A. In our Genesis 1:1-31, 2:1-4 lesson, two members of the Trinity are mentioned: (1) Verse 1 In the beginning God [the Father planned and directed it] created the heavens and the earth.

(2) Verse 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God [Holy Spirit] was hovering over the waters. Hovering here evokes such a lovely image. In the Hebrew it conveys the sense of a mother hen hovering over/covering with her wings her chicks. It’s a protective and a loving action.

(3) Verses 3-26 reveal the orderly mind of God and His attention to detail. The 1st day (v.3), He—John the Gospeler says this He is Jesus, who speaks creation into existence. In John 1:1,3, he tells us In the beginning was the Word [God’s Word made flesh, Jesus, the Logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…Through Him [Jesus] all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. That first day, Jesus spoke light into existence. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world.”

The 2nd day (v.6), He created the sky, separating the waters above (rain, dew) from the waters below (oceans, lakes, rivers, etc.).

The 3rd day (vv.9-11), He separated out dry ground from the waters and made vegetation.

The 4th day (v.14), He formed lights in the sky, the sun, the moon, and the stars. (Notice, light itself was produced before these celestial bodies were placed in the heavens).

The 5th day (vv.20-24), He produced marine life and birds.

On the 6th day (26), He crafted land-dwelling animals and humankind, the pinnacle of His creation. He said Let us [plural, more than one] make man in our image, in our likeness. Adam, Eve, and the animals were to be fruitful and multiply; and Adam was to serve as a steward or overseer of over the rest of creation, as God’s agents.

So, according to the first chapters of Genesis and of John, all three persons of the Trinity were present at creation. God the Father devised the plan; God the Son spoke it into existence; and God the Spirit was both the power source and the breath (The Hebrew word for the Holy Spirit is ruach which means both breath, wind, and spirit).

B. Psalm 8, written by King David, is a hymn of praise to God for creation. It begins and ends with those wonderful words, O LORD, our LORD, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! Then it goes on to celebrate God’s formation of the cosmos, from planets and stars to humans and infants. We could call this a Messianic psalm because it speaks to a time when all persons will revere our Lord. As we know, the names of God and of Jesus are not everywhere honored today; some use them as curse words. But at Jesus’ 2nd Coming, all will know that God is real, that He exists, and that He rules in power and might. They will then either revere Him or be gone.

C. Both 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 and Matthew 28:16-20 are farewell addresses that include references to the Trinity. As Paul says goodbye to the Church in Corinth, he exhorts them to… (v.11) aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, and live in peace.

None of us is perfect, so what he means by this is grow up! In the first chapters of 1 Corinthians, he takes the believers there to task for being infantile in their faith (preferring milk to meat) and acting out of their carnal rather than spiritual nature. So, he is saying, essentially, “Don’t act like entitled children; learn to live a spirit-filled, disciplined life.”

Additionally, he wants them to pay attention to what he has taught them. He encourages them to try to maintain unity in doctrine and beliefs—which we know presently and personally is difficult. And he wants them to live in peace….We can’t create peace—only Jesus can—but we can conduct ourselves in a way that demonstrates we know Jesus can supply us with the peace that passes all understanding. Then he encourages them to greet each other with appropriate affection—no icky or invasive hugs or kisses.

Finally, he blesses them with a benediction that includes each member of the Trinity (v.14) May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God [the Father], and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. What a wonderful sendoff!

Jesus’s parting words in Matthew 28 are strikingly similar. We call His final instructions the Great Commission:

(1) We are to go! Through our neighborhoods, our county, our state, our country, to the entire world.

(2) We are to make disciples for Christ.

(3) We are to teach them about Jesus and that they and we are to be obedient to Him.

(4) And we are to baptize them (v.19) …in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Paul died but Jesus promises us to be present with us (through the Holy Spirit) (v.20)…to the very end of the age.

So what does this mean to us on this Trinity Sunday of 2023?

The story is told of a seminary professor who asked his students to close their eyes and see if they could summon up for themselves an image of God.

“After a few moments he had them open their eyes and, if comfortable, share what they saw. Most of them said the same thing: “An old man with a white beard floating in the clouds, looking down at us.” [The professor] then said, “If what you imagine God to be like is anything other than Jesus, then you have the wrong image of God.” Jesus is beautiful, and so are the Father and the Spirit: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 KJV).”.

(Borrowed from The Magnificent Story by James Bryan Smith, InterVarsity Press, 2018.).

We want to remember that God the Father and the Spirit are spirits. Jesus shows us the loving, grace-filled face of the Father, as well as the powerful, healing and sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The truth is that our God exists in 3 persons—all the same God but taking on three personalities or different expressions—all of which is difficult for our finite minds to take in. I don’t understand gravity. I can’t see it, but I know it is real and I don’t plan to test it by jumping off a tall building. I think, until we reach heaven, we probably have to agree with St. Augustine and take the same stance with the Trinity.

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams


The WHY Questions

Pastor Sherry’s message for May 7, 2023

Scriptures: Acts 7:54-8:1; Ps 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Pet 2:2-10; Jn 14:1-14

Remember when your kids or grandkids played “the Why Question Game” with you? We’ve all experienced it. Perhaps we were driving somewhere in the car, or trying to put them to bed, and they would pipe up with a Why question. Example One: We announce, “Kids, We’re going to stop at McDonalds for lunch.” The chorus from the backseat sings out, “Why?” “Because we all like McDonalds!” “Why?” “Well,” we say, “it’s quick and everyone can get what they want.” “Why?” By this time we are beginning to get irritated. But we’re on to them. We know how this goes, so we put a stop to the game. We say, “No more why’s!” From the back seat, accompanied by giggles, we hear, “Why?”

Example Two: The child has been bathed, teeth are brushed, a bedtime story has been read, and prayers are said. We say, “Good night. It’s time to go to sleep.” Just as we go to turn out the light, and close the door, we hear, “Why?” “Because you’ve had a busy day. You need your rest. ” “Why?” “Because your bones grow mainly when you are asleep.” “Why?” And on it can go, ad nauseum, and ad aggravation.

Actually, it’s a very good thing to ask why! Kids can ask why to manipulate or to irritate, but they can also be genuinely interested in cause and effect, and in finding out how their world works. Someone, somewhere once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In other words, that person meant that we are not to live without questioning our routine and habitual ways of living out our lives. From this perspective, asking Why is among the most important things we ever do.

We must all answer for ourselves the Great Existential (things related to life and living) Questions:

1.) Who am I? (This deals with our identity.)

2.) Who (or what) made me?

3.)Why am I here? (What’s my purpose?)

4.) How do I know I have lived a good life?

5.) Where do I go when I die?

They are not all why questions but they do try to get at the Why? of our existence and of our purpose.

Peter offers, in today’s Epistle reading (1 Peter 2:2-10) some pretty effective answers to the Why Questions of life. As Christians, we know we are children of God, created by our Lord to know, love, and serve Him. That belief answers the Who made me Question. The answer, of course, is God. It also addresses the Why am I here Question: (1) To come to know God; (2) To develop a relationship with and learn to love God; and (3) to serve God and his people.

Peter also offers us answers to the identity and purposeful life questions: In verse 5, Peter refers to us each as …living stones [who are] being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Remember, Jesus is the Rock. He changed Peter’s name from Simon to Peter, which means little rock, or chip off the Rock. As Christ-followers, we too are to live our lives as though we are chips off of Jesus–not just those who follow Christ’s teachings intellectually, but those who imitate Him, in what we do and in what we say.

The Lord wants to use us, as we serve Him, as a holy priesthood. In following Jesus denying Jesus then being lovingly forgiven and received back by Jesus, Peter knows the most important thing for us in life is to be closely connected to Jesus. What is the job/the role of a priest? It is to explain God to people—Who He is and what He wants from us. It is also to help people relate to Him—here’s what helps you draw nearer to Him and here’s what distances you from Him. Finally, a priest assists us to offer sacrifices to God–no longer animals, thank God, because Jesus is the once and for all perfect Sacrifice. But we offer God sacrifices of praise (consider our “Halleluiah Sing” this past Sunday. We each took an hour out of our day to sing hymns to the Lord). We also offer Him our time and talents (to cook, to decorate or maintain the church, to practice and perform music, to operate the Thrift Store, etc.). And we offer to Him money or tithes to help build up His Kingdom here on earth.

Peter goes on to exclaim (v.9) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Peter asserts that we each were chosen. Here’s a great Why? Question. Why was Israel chosen to be God’s special people? Why were each of us chosen to be Christ-followers? Why did God pick us? While each of us is unique and special, none of us has earned special recognition from God—none of us deserves to be among God’s chosen. So why did God choose us? He chose each one of us because of His love and His grace. It all starts with Him. He initiates relationship and we respond to Him. The “Two Bubba’s and a Bible” say it so well: Why were we chosen, royal, holy [set apart]? Because of the pure, unbridled, unadulterated, unmitigated, unreasoned love of God. Why? …Not why as in, ”Why has God loved us, chosen us, made us royal and holy?” But Why as I, “Why has God called us together, what are we chosen for, what is our purpose, our reason for being?” Peter tells us that God has chosen us so that [we] may proclaim the mighty acts of (the One) who has called (us) out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. (Fairless and Chilton, The Lectionary Lab, Year A, 2013, pp.126-127).

There it is! Our purpose is to know, love and serve God by telling others about Him. Our purpose—as they say in Cursillo–is to “be a friend, make a friend, bring a friend to Christ.” Our greatest purpose in life is to help make Jesus known to others. We can do this by talking, blogging, or writing, recounting from our hearts how knowing Jesus has changed our lives. We can do this by assisting people in need, then giving Jesus the credit if they try to thank us. We can do this by the way we live our lives.

Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:1) witnessed to Jesus as he was being stoned to death. Saul observed Stephen’s death and scholars believe the way Stephen died subsequently prepared Saul to accept Jesus (in Acts 9) on the road to Damascus. We can fulfill our divine purpose in life by praying that people who don’t yet know Jesus to come to know Him.

Our Psalm (31:1-5, 15-16) and our Gospel (14:1-14) further illuminate our reasons to love and serve God:

Psalm 31 is a prayer for deliverance from trouble. Certainly being dragged out by an angry mob to be stoned to death, like Stephen–or crucified, like Jesus–qualifies as “big trouble.” Both Stephen and Jesus quote this psalm as they are being murdered: Verse 5 Into Your hands I commit my spirit. Both Jesus and Stephen exhibit the kind of faith in God demonstrated in verses 15-16 My times are in Your hands; deliver me from those who pursue me. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. They knew that whether they lived or died was up to the Father. Both also forgave their murderers as they were being executed.

In John 14:6, Jesus declares that He is…the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. We love and follow Jesus because He is our only route to the Father. People who espouse other beliefs are offended by what they consider to be the “exclusive claims of Christianity.” Jesus is clearly saying no other set of religious beliefs will get us to heaven–neither worshipping the Buddha, Confucius, any Hindu gods, Allah, Baal, Satan, nor even a political party or “the state,” as communists do, will earn someone salvation. The Gospels and the Epistles proclaim that only Jesus can ultimately rescue us.

Jesus goes on to say in verses 9-10 Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father?” Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me? In other words, Jesus is the Face of the Father. The Father is spirit and does not take on human form. Jesus fully represented God the Father on earth.

He gave us a human face to look upon; then, He only said what the Father told Him to say; and He did only what the Father told Him to do. He is what people might call “God with skin on.” So, we know we have lived a good life if we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and if we have tried to live a life pleasing to Him, obeying Him and His Father.

One final thought: Our Gospel passage today also answers for us the final existential question—Where do we go when we die? John 14:1-3 is often read at funerals because of the hope and comfort it offers. Jesus promises (per Peterson’s The Message, NavPress, 2002, p.1948) Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust Me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on My way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. Where do we go when we die? If we love Jesus, we go to live with Him forever in Paradise, in a room or a home He has prepared for us.

It’s good to ask “the Why Questions.” But it’s even better to know the answers. All of the great existential questions are answered, for those of us who love Jesus, though our faith in our Him.

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

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Imprecatory Psalms

Pastor Sherry’s message for April 30, 2023

Scriptures: Acts 2:42-47; Ps 137; 1 Peter 2:19-25; Jn 10:1-10

I. Chuck Swindoll relates the following humorous stories (The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing,1998, p.493):

A man went to see his physician about some strange symptoms he was having. The doctor examined him and then told him that he had rabies. Immediately the guy set about writing a list. Thinking the man was writing his will, the doc hastened to inform him that he would not be dying because there is a successful treatment. The man then told the doctor he knew rabies wasn’t fatal but that he was making a list of all the people he wanted to bite.

In the 2nd story, a newborn is held up by her feet and smacked on the fanny to get her to breathe. Instead of crying, the baby girl screams angrily, “I want an attorney!”

Both of these stories are about the very human desire for revenge when we perceive we’ve been wronged. Our Cancel Culture today demands retribution and deliberately sets out to ruin whoever and whatever they target. We know this is not the perspective of our God. As far back as Genesis 50:19, we have the example of Joseph forgiving his brothers for having sold him into bondage. In Proverbs 20:22, Solomon, in his wisdom writes Do Not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord, and He will deliver you. Nor was revenge ever advocated by Jesus.

Remember, Jesus forgave His murderers from the Cross. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-44), Jesus taught You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, ’Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….’ In Romans 12:14, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. He continues in verses 17 and 19: Do not repay anyone evil for evil….Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.

So then, we might ask, “What’s with the so called, ‘Imprecatory Psalms’?” These are a group of 10-14 Psalms that invoke or call down curses on enemies. They are a plea for God to avenge the psalmist for serious wrongs done to him or her.

1. Psalm 5:10 (a Psalm of David) says (Peterson’s The Message, p.915 Pile on the guilt, God! Let their so-called wisdom wreck them. Kick them out! They’ve had their chance.

2. Psalm 35:4-8 (another David psalm, MSG, p.952) When those thugs try to knife me in the back, make them look foolish. Frustrate all those who are plotting my downfall. Make them like cinders in a high wind, with God’s angel working the bellows. Make their road lightless and mud-slick, with God’s angel on their tails. Out of sheer cussedness they set a trap to catch me; for no good reason they dug a ditch to stop me. Surprise them with Your ambush—catch them in the very trap they set, the disaster they planned for me.

3. Our psalm today is another particularly bloodthirsty example (Psalm 137:7-9, MSG, p.1079-1080) God, remember those Edomites, and remember the ruin of Jerusalem, that day they yelled out, “Wreck it, smash it to bits!” And you, Babylonians—ravagers! A reward to whoever gets back at you for all you’ve done to us; Yes a reward to the one who grabs your babies and smashes their heads on the rocks! Yikes! These examples seem extreme, don’t they? Human enough, but not very Christian; and not much different from what our culture advocates today.

Let’s consider then why God has allowed them a place in the canon [the standard or tenets] of Scripture:

1. First, they are not just emotionally hot and irrational expressions of unchecked temper. They are instead passionate, emphatic requests for divine justice. Since they are included in the Bible, you can even make a case that they are divinely inspired.

2. Second, in Deuteronomy 27 and 28, the Israelites call down blessings upon their nation for godly behavior and curses upon their nation for idolatry and other serious offenses against God. They thereby pronounced imprecations upon themselves–and their children, in advance–for abandoning God’s commands. No wonder the Jewish people have had such a hard time of it over the ages!

3. Most of the imprecatory psalms were written by King David. They are not really calls for personal vengeance, but rather requests for God’s justice. David was a mighty and a successful military general. However, he also demonstrated remarkable restraint. He spared King Saul’s life several times when he could have easily slain him. He did not exact revenge on Nabal or Shimei (who both disrespected him), nor even on his beloved son Absalom who led an insurrection (palace coup) against him. In each case, he asked God to vindicate him, but was not personally vindictive.

4. Additionally, imprecatory psalms are human prayers asking for God to carry out His divine promises. Notice Jesus says, in Matthew 7:23 that on Judgment Day, He will say to hypocrites who claim to love Him but don’t I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers. This is a prayer based on God’s promises to meet out His justice at the end of times. Furthermore, our God hates sin. Jesus expects the Father to address sin.

5. The motivation behind imprecatory psalms is zeal for justice and righteousness. It’s like the difference between gossip and truth: Gossip seeks to run a person down, to build up self at the expense of others. Truth-telling may be just as negative, but it describes what actually is going on. Both may look and sound the same, but the motives are different. The psalmist is not asking God to destroy an individual, but rather to address and heal the harm done.

6. Usually the imprecations are aimed at a group, a class of persons—Edomites or Babylonians–“the wicked,” or those who oppose God.

7. And often the call for divine judgment comes after many efforts have been made to get the hateful group to repent. Paul urges us to pray for those who persecute us (Romans 12:20, quoting Proverbs 25:21-22) If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head and the Lord will reward you. But he also says in 1 Corinthians 16:22 If anyone does not love the Lord—a curse be on him. Come, oh Lord! In other words, by our grace-filled behavior, we may be able to transform an enemy into a believer; nonbelievers, however, have already condemned themselves.*

*(Ideas borrowed from Sam Storms at, April 28, 2023, article entitled, “Ten things you should know about the Imprecatory Psalms,” which I have collapsed to 7.)

8. Finally, I think they also provide a model for how we should respond to those who attack or harm us, verbally or otherwise: Rather than running down an enemy in person, or on line (which is so cowardly), or—in some cases–in the courts, we should present them to the Lord and pray for Him to respond to them with His just verdicts and judgments.

Now, let’s return to Psalm 137. What are the Israelites saying in this imprecatory psalm?

First, they have been captured and enslaved by the Babylonians. God allowed this to happen to the Northern Kingdom (by the Assyrians) in 722 and the Southern Kingdom (by the Babylonians) in 586. They were being disciplined by God for their idolatry. They had abandoned the Lord. They were living sinful lifestyles. God sent prophet after prophet to warn them, but they didn’t listen and repent.

So the Judeans find themselves in Babylon, most likely digging canals from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to irrigate this dry land. They are despondent and depressed. They see no reason to celebrate in song. The Babylonians, however, had heard that they worshipped their God with songs and psalms, and now torment them to sing again for their entertainment.

It is said that over 100,000 worshipers would sing together in the Temple during the high feast days. That must have been glorious! But these despondent captives cannot be persuaded to sing. They miss Jerusalem.

They miss their home.

Instead, they beg for God’s justice against the Edomites, descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Jacob went on to become the patriarch of the Israelites, while Esau’s descendants were Arabs from Edom. In other words, they were extended family members who rejoiced over Jerusalem’s fall. They also beg God’s justice against the the brutal Babylonian army who no doubt killed children too young to work, perhaps by bashing in their skulls on rocks. They would have also cut down the elderly and anyone with a handicapping infirmity.

The imprecatory psalms are a cry for God’s justice. Our God is able to do what we cannot. This is why we call upon the Lord to redress the problems with our greedy and corrupt leaders in Washington, DC. This is why we pray faithfully every Sunday for God to bring about a national turnaround in our government, our justice system, our communities, our schools, and in our families. We don’t call for the Lord to destroy those who are inspiring havoc and lawlessness in our country, but to change their hearts.

Come, Lord Jesus. Heal our land and heal our hearts!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Faulty Expectations

Pastor Sherry’s message for April 23, 2023

Scriptures: Acts 2:14a,36-41; Ps 116:1-4,12-19; 1 Pet 1:17-23; Lk 24:13-35

I read a story recently from “Our Daily Bread” that tickled me:

“A traveling salesman had a flat tire while driving, in the rain, at night, on a country road. But to his dismay he had no lug wrench. Seeing a nearby farmhouse, he set out on foot. Surely the farmer would have a lug wrench, he thought. But would he even come to the door? And if he did, he’d probably be furious at being bothered. He’d say, ‘What’s the big idea getting me out of bed in the middle of the night?’ This thought made the salesman angry. ‘Why, that farmer is a selfish old clod to refuse to help me.’

“Finally the man reached the house. Frustrated and drenched, he banged on the door. ‘Who’s there?’ a voice called out from a window overhead. ‘You know good and well who it is,’ yelled the salesman, his face red with anger. ‘It’s me! And you can keep your old lug wrench! I wouldn’t borrow it is it was the last one in the county.’”

Do you see how the salesman’s faulty expectations influenced his interactions with the sleepy farmer? He had worked himself into a “mad” over how he anticipated the conversation would go. He hadn’t even yet interacted with the man, but his imagined and negative expectations skewed the way he then approached someone who could have helped him. Psychological research tells us that our common default is to evaluate a situation negatively. We do this almost automatically and have to learn to override this in order to think positively. In olden times, there was a practical value to scanning the environment for dangers. Negative evaluations keep us safe, but they won’t get us to happy. Positive thinking is what does that.

Think about your typical expectations. Has faulty thinking ever been true of you? I once began a new job—prior to seminary—with a boss who claimed she was a Christian. I liked her initially and thought she would be a good person to work for; hers was the 5th firm in 2 years to take over the rehabilitation company that employed my team and me. She called her business, “RehabActs,” and told me she had named it for the book of Acts. My expectations of her were positive until I discovered later that she was using my mental health license to defraud Medicaid and Medicare. I confronted her and told her she was putting my license in jeopardy but she informed me that she was the boss and that I would sign off on services we had not performed or be fired. When she would not listen to reason, I had to quit in order to protect my credentials from ethics violations and possible criminal charges. My expectations that she would be an ethical employer had been extremely disappointed.

How often have your expectations of friends and family disappointed you? I recently learned of two adult children whose father did not invite them to his wedding, even though they both lived in the same town where the marriage ceremony took place, and could have attended. They both discerned from this that he did not hold either one in very high esteem. They were of course deeply disappointed.

How about business or financial decisions that turned out to be mistakes? Or retirement plans? I remember a woman who shared with me her broken heart. She and her husband had worked for years to fix up a lake house to retire to, only to have him die a week after they moved in. She awoke one morning to find him dead in his recliner. She had expected they would live out their retirement years in this tranquil and beautiful setting, but she sold the property on which they had worked so hard. The memories of what was not to be were too painful.

Our readings today address the issue of faulty (or mistaken) vs. sound expectations:

A. Our Gospel lesson (Luke 24:13-35) invites us to consider how many of Jesus’ followers probably responded to news of His death and resurrection. Afterall, death seems so final, the end of possibilities and dreams. These two on the road to Emmaus–Cleopas and a friend? His wife? His son?–were confused and disappointed. Many had thought that Jesus was the Messiah who would help them overthrow Roman rule. But now He had been executed like a common criminal. Rumors were spreading that He had been seen, alive and well. Jesus had apparently risen from the dead! They wondered, “Could this possibly be true?”

Then Jesus sets them straight—in what had to have been a phenomenal walk through the Hebrew Scriptures: Verse 27 and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself. He shared with them the totality of how the Old Testament pointed to and described the Christ. No doubt He shared how Jesus’s life and ministry fulfilled these Scriptures. Did you realize that all of the items in the Holy Place and the Holies of Holies were symbolic of Jesus? How about the way the Israelites camped and marched in the Wilderness? They camped by tribes in the shape of a Cross, with the Tabernacle in the middle and the tribe of Judah ahead of it. No doubt He disabused them of their faulty expectations that Jesus was meant to be a conquering hero in His First Coming. No, He came first as a humble servant to save them and us spiritually, from our sins. But when He returns in His 2nd coming, He will then arrive as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, completing our rescue from the grip of human and satanic tyrants.

Notice, it was only as He blessed and broke bread with them that they recognized Him (v.31) Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and he disappeared from their sight. How frustrating to have Him then suddenly vanish (oh, that resurrection body!). He reveals Himself to them, they get it, and He evaporates! However, they now know they too have encountered the Risen Christ. So, they hot-foot it back to Jerusalem to share their news with the disciples gathered there. Don’t you know they also gave a seminar on their faulty expectations vs. Christ’s reality?

B. In our Acts lesson (Acts 2:14a,36-41), Peter preaches a Pentecost sermon that converts the hearts of 3,000 Jews to Jesus. Having been empowered by the Holy Spirit, he is no longer captured by fear. Instead, he becomes a bold, authoritative street preacher. Gloves off, he accuses them in verse 36 Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. He confronts them with their national sin. They feel both convicted and guilty. They ask him and the other disciples (v.37)…Brothers, what shall we do?

In verse 38, he tells them to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. Isn’t this what each of us has done as we too have come to a saving knowledge of Christ? Our faith has led us to a desire to be baptized with water (if we were not as infants); and, hopefully, we have also been received the gift of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Peter was exhorting them to let go of their faulty expectations of the Messiah and accept that Jesus was and is the Christ.

C. Peter goes on to say in his epistle (1st Peter 1:17-23) that there is no other way to salvation except through belief in Jesus. In verses 18-19, he insists, essentially, that nothing can save us from our sins but Jesus…not money (gold or silver); not power and influence; not personal effort; not other gods (notice the little “g”). No, we are only saved by…(v.19) the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. This is one of the main reasons Christianity is becoming less popular in our culture today. Secularists take exception to the Bible’s exclusive claims. Jesus said no one comes to the Father except through Him; He is the only way to heaven. Many would prefer that there would instead be several routes to Paradise. Jesus is the only way to salvation because it is only He who paid the cost of all of our sins.

Additionally, as Rev. Dr. J. Vernon McGee says, “Jesus was not an ambulance sent to a wreck,” not an emergency response to a catastrophe (Commentary on 1 Peter, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, p.40.) Jesus’ saving work on the Cross was always God’s plan (v.20) He was chosen before the creation of the world [and] was revealed in these last times for your sake.

D. So, what is our response to be—our sound expectation–for this great Good News? Our Psalm (116:1-4, 12-19) tells us: (Vv.1-2) I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy. Because He turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live. Whoever wrote this psalm was a person in distress who chose to upon the Lord for help. Asking God for help is a choice, often peoples’ last option after they have done all they possibly can in a given situation. But this composer believed the Lord would hear and would help. So he or she wrote this love song to God. As the psalmist teaches us, we respond to God with gratitude because He hears us. We respond with love for Him because He replies to our heartfelt prayers.

The truth is that God needs nothing from us. The best gift we can give God is our love. Another great gift to Him is our thanks.

We want to have only sound expectations of Jesus. We are to let go of any faulty expectations that get in the way of a sound faith and understanding of Jesus Christ. These include common misperceptions that Jesus should do what I want Him to do for me to have faith in Him. These also include my dependence on my own wealth, power, or influence–or my own will. King Louis XIV of France (1643-1715), also known as “the Sun King,” reigned for 72+ years. Upon losing a massive battle to the English at Blenheim, he is said to have exclaimed, “How could God do this to me? After all I have done for Him?” God bless him, but what hubris!

A wiser Frenchman, Blaise Pascal (a famous mathematician and philosopher who lived during Louis 14th’s reign, once said, “Human knowledge must be understood to be believed but divine knowledge must be believed to be understood.” If we read the Bible, it will correct our faulty expectations. If we ask for the help of the Holy Spirit as we read it, Scripture will teach us what we can accurately hope for from our God. The Spirit will correct our faulty understandings. The Spirit will deepen our faith and our love for God. Thanks be to God! Amen!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Proof of the Resurrection

Pastor Sherry’s message for April 16,2023

Scriptures: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Ps 16; 1 Pet 1:3-9; Jn 20:19-31

The story is told that… “in 1799 the armies of Napoleon appeared on the heights above the town of Feldkirch, Austria. It was Easter Day, and the rays of the rising sun glittered on the weapons of the French, as they appeared drawn up on the hills to the west of the town. The Town Council was hastily called together to consult what was to be done.

“After much discussion, the dean of the Church rose and said, ‘My brothers, it is Easter Day! We have been reckoning our own strength, and that fails. Let us turn to God. Ring the bells and have service as usual, and leave the matter in God’s hands.

“They agreed to do as he said. Then from the church towers in Feldkirch there rang out joyous peals in honor of the Resurrection and the streets filled with worshipers hastening to the church.

“The French heard the sudden ringing of the joy bells with surprise and alarm. They concluded that the Austrian army had arrived to relieve the place. So they hastily fled, and before the bells had ceased ringing not a Frenchman was to be seen.”

(Website “Ministry 127,” 2023, quoting Walter Baxendale, Dictionary of Anecdote, Incident, Illustrative Fact: Selected and Arranged for the Pulpit and the Platform, 1888.)

There are a number of great lessons in this story, aren’t there? Look at what God can do when we trust in Him for protection. The French had had their revolution (1787), during which they had killed off many Roman Catholic clergy and protestant Huguenots 12 years before. Without anyone to lead worship, provide Biblical teaching, and help nurture and reinforce their Christian beliefs, the faith of the French army had withered to such an extent that they no longer even recognized Easter Sunday! (This is similar to today in America, in that a recent “man in the street” interview in New York City revealed that only one woman out of dozens of interviewees knew the meaning of Easter.) This is why the Napoleonic Army misconstrued the meaning behind the ringing of the bells.

I rang our bell this morning. Bob, the bell ringer when I arrived 8 years ago, has since moved into a nursing home. No one has rung our bell since he left. It occurred to me today that it was beyond time to ring it again. Our bell could also be called a “joy bell.” It calls us to worship and should remind us of the joy we have in Jesus’ resurrection.

Another story is told of a man driving down a country road with his 5 year old son. They passed a cemetery and noticed a large pile of dirt next to a grave that had been freshly dug. The little boy looked and exclaimed to his father, “Look, Dad, one got out!” The person who composed this story remains unknown. Nevertheless, the next time you pass a cemetery…“think of the One Whom the grave could not hold” (also anonymous).

Another unknown person once said, “Christmas is the promise and Easter is the proof.” Our Scriptures today all instruct us in the proof of Jesus’ resurrection:

A. Part of the proof resides in Psalm 16. It is a prophesy written by King David, but which pertains to and was fulfilled by Jesus some 1000 years later. Jesus says (v.8) I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at My right hand, I will not be shaken. From this side of the Cross and Resurrection, we can attest that this was (and is) true of Christ’s life. No one and nothing had been able to deter Him from fulfilling His mission here on earth. The Father communicated often with the Son and because of their love for each other, Jesus persevered through (1) His poverty and homelessness; (2) His rejection by the religious authorities of His people; and (3) through His passion and death, to His glorious resurrection.

In verses 9-10, He states, Therefore My heart is glad and My tongue rejoices; My body also will rest secure, because You will not abandon Me to the grave, nor will You let Your Holy One [Jesus] see decay. Jesus totally trusted in His Father. He knew He would die, but He also knew His body would not languish in the grave. Because of His sacrifice for our sins, those of us who believe in Him can also trust our graves are not our final destinations.

Verse 11 describes His ascension into heaven You have made known to Me the path of life; You will fill Me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.

B. John’s account in our Gospel lesson today (John 20:19-31) describes how patiently Jesus proved His resurrection to the 11 Apostles (Judas had committed suicide) following Easter. First He appeared to all but Thomas, who was absent. His resurrection body suddenly manifested, despite the locked door. We are told He identified Himself to them by showing them His damaged hands, feet, side. This was no imposter, nor was He a ghost. He greeted them in peace (they were scared). He imparted to them Holy Spirit empowerment to overcome their fears, and to assist Him to begin to preach the truth of His resurrection to whomever would listen. The sins of those who became born again through their preaching were forgiven (cleansed by the blood of the Lamb); those who rejected Christ would continue to carry the guilt of their sin themselves.

Then He returned a week later to confront Thomas’ unbelief. Thomas was apparently a “Detective Joe Friday” (Remember the TV show, “Dragnet”?) who wanted to see and hear for Himself, “Just the facts, M’am.”

Like a modern day CSI investigator, he wanted physical proof before he would believe. Jesus knew this about him and patiently provided it for him. Thomas saw, believed, then proclaimed, My Lord and my God. Jesus affirmed Thomas (v.29) Because you have seen Me, you have believed. But He also rebuked him and the others Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. These 11 were eye-witnesses to the Resurrection and they believed. But those of us who weren’t eye-witnesses, and still believe, are especially praised.

C. Peter’s famous Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:14a, 22-32) displays his deepened faith. He has accepted the proof of Jesus’ resurrection. In verse 25, he quotes from Psalm 16:8-11. By now, it is clear to him that Jesus fulfilled King David’s prophesy of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension. And this is essentially what he preached to the Pentecost crowd in Jerusalem that day. Peter wanted them to understand that Jesus fulfilled King David’s prophetic promise (vv.31-32) Seeing what was ahead, He [King David] spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to the grave, nor did His body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Can’t you just hear the excitement, the joy in his voice as he proclaimed this? Clearly Peter had become totally convinced and convicted!

D. In his letter, 1st Peter 1:3-9, the Apostle to the Jews of the Diaspora–those who lived outside Israel–is writing to encourage Christ-followers who are experiencing persecution. The time is somewhere during the mid-60’s of the First Century. Emperor Nero (54-68) had begun persecuting Christians in Rome. It is said that he had set fire to the poorest section of the city, but blamed Christians—even using their burning bodies as torches for his garden parties. (Later on, Emperor Domitian [81-96] would extend persecution of Christians throughout the Empire—claiming Christians were intolerant and seditious because they would not worship the Roman panoply of gods nor agree that “Caesar is Lord”).

Peter encouraged believers in the passage we read today to hold on to their hope, despite any persecution or suffering they might undergo. He says in verse 3 that our hope lies in Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, and is also due to (v.4) …an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power….Despite any persecution we may suffer, we await in faith our own resurrection. Additionally, we happily anticipate joy without limit in Heaven.

Finally, echoing Jesus’ words to Thomas, he commends them (v.8) Though you have not seen Him [Jesus], you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him. We, too, are to believe in Jesus because of His resurrection, the ultimate proof that He was and is God.

The first 2 Scottish missionaries sent to the Island of Aniwa in New Hebrides were killed and consumed by cannibals. Needless to say, it was difficult to recruit others to try to take their place. One fellow, though, John G. Paton (1884-1907)–perhaps distantly related to our army general, George Patton –bravely volunteered to go. When church members, friends, and family tried to talk him out of it, citing the danger of the cannibalistic natives, he said, “I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.” Because of the proof of the resurrection, Paton could fearlessly go minister among cannibals. In fact, he served as a missionary in New Hebrides for 15 years and successfully converted the entire island of Aniwa by the time he returned to Scotland.

(Story recounted on Website “Ministry 127,” April, 2023.)

We too can have the same confidence: We can trust that whatever happens to our mortal bodies, we will be raised to have resurrection bodies. We can also trust that we will dwell with Christ and all the resurrection saints in Heaven. The next time you pass a cemetery, think of the One Whom the grave could not hold, and be thankful.

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

He is Risen!

Pastor Sherry’s Easter message for 4/9/23

Scriptures: Acts 10:34-43; Ps 118:1-2, 14-24; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-18

“Max Lucado, in his book, Six Hours One Friday, tells the story of a missionary in Brazil who discovered a tribe of Indians in a remote part of the jungle. They lived near a large river. The tribe was friendly and in need of medical attention. A contagious disease was ravaging the population and people were dying daily. An infirmary was located in another part of the jungle and the missionary determined the only hope for the tribe was to go to the hospital for treatment and inoculations. In order to reach the hospital, however, the Indians would have to cross the river—a feat they were unwilling to perform.

“The river, they believed, was inhabited by evil spirits. To enter the water meant certain death. The missionary set about the difficult task of overcoming the superstition of the tribe.

“He explained how he had crossed the river arrived unharmed. No luck. He led the people to the bank and placed his hand in the water. The people still wouldn’t believe him. He walked out into the river and splashed water on his face. The people watched closely, yet were still hesitant. Finally, he turned and dove into the river. He swam beneath the surface until he emerged on the other side. Having proved that the power of the river was a farce, the missionary punched a triumphant fist into the air. He had entered the water and escaped. The Indians broke into cheers and followed him across.”

Isn’t that what Jesus did? He entered the river of death and came out on the other side so that we might no longer fear death, but find eternal life in Him.

(Max Lucado, Six Hours One Friday, Multnomah Books, 1989, pp.157-158).

Today, Easter Sunday, we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ demonstrated that He had overcome sin and death by rising from the dead. He demonstrated the full extent of His miraculous power. And He brought us hope for the future (death is not the final outcome for us). All of our readings today refer in some way to Jesus’ resurrection:

A. In our Gospel, John (20:1-18) highlights some of the events of that first Easter Day. Mary Magdalene—remember, she had held a vigil for Jesus, along with His mother, John, and several other women–at the foot of His Cross. She had probably wept and prayed for Him as he hung dying. No doubt she had watched Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus quickly wrap His body for burial. In a dry land with limited water, they would have cleaned the corpse as best they could. They had to hurry before the onset of the Sabbath—He had to be buried before sundown. They then coated the body with myrrh, aloe, and the other spices they had brought. Next, they wrapped it up in stripes of cloth, which would have encased the body in a permanent, glued-on, kind of bandage. This process is important to note because of what happens later.

Mary had watched and must have thought the men did not do as good a job as they should have done for someone as important as Jesus. So she returned to the grave early the next morning, intending to make things right. How she thought she might roll away the heavy stone sealing the tomb is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, she found the tomb already opened but containing no body. John tells us she ran to find Peter and the other disciple [this is how John always refers to himself in his Gospel], both of whom ran to see for themselves. John, the younger man, arrived first but only peeked into the tomb. The older Peter lagged behind, but reached the tomb and charged in to see only grave clothes on the shelf where Jesus had been laid.

The grave clothes told a story: The myrrh, aloe, and spices should have stuck the cloth stripes to the body, like a mummy. Remember Lazarus needed help to remove his. Both men saw strips of linen lying there, as if Jesus had materialized up through them, leaving them behind. In addition, the shroud for his head and face had been neatly folded and set aside. John saw this, knew it was physically impossible and therefore evidence of a miracle, and believed that Jesus had been resurrected. They appeared to have then gone home to ponder over what they’d seen.

Mary remained, grieving. Jesus appeared in His resurrection body and she didn’t recognize Him. Apparently the nail holes on His hands and feet, and the pieced place on His side, were evident, but something about His face and posture were altered in His resurrection body. Or perhaps she didn’t realize it was Him because she wasn’t expecting to see Him. She only comprehended that it was Jesus when He called her by name. He told her then to go tell the other disciples that He is going to see God the Father. Now we know from other accounts that He later met privately with Peter, encountered the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and arrived back to greet 10 of the 11 disciples in the Upper Room, but we do not really know where He went during the middle hours between dawn and later that evening. Somewhere during that time, He had a joyous reunion with His Father in heaven! Mary, then, obediently carried the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection—I have seen the Lord!–to the others.

B. Peter is certainly fired up as he preaches to Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:34-43). He had seen the empty tomb, the discarded grave clothes, and the resurrected Christ! Filled with the Holy Spirit (at Pentecost, back in Acts 2), he preaches with fiery conviction. Dr. J. Vernon McGee makes the point that, “There is not a single sermon in Acts that does not mention the resurrection of Jesus.” (Through the Bible Commentary Series, Acts, Thomas Nelson, 1991, p.129).

Peter reviews for the Cornelius’ Roman household the salient points of Jesus’ life and ministry, emphasizing the resurrection (vv.39b-41) They [the Jewish religious authorities + the Romans ] killed Him by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. What a privilege to have been chosen by the Father to be one of the 500 or so to actually see and spend time with Jesus!

C. Paul reminds us, in Colossians 3:1-4, that because we are “in Christ,” we …have been raised with Christ. We share in Christ’s resurrection. Due to this new position in Christ, we have said goodbye to our old, fleshly selves; and we have put on a new, spiritual self. As a result of this phenomenal realignment/reorientation of our individual identities, Paul wants us to (v.2) set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. If you have read anything about people who claim to have died and gone to heaven (NDE’s, Near Death Experiences), they all agree they did not want to return to earth. Having seen Heaven, they wanted to stay. Similarly, Paul believes since heaven is ahead of us, we should focus on Jesus as we continue our tenure on earth. As children of the Resurrection, we are to pattern our lives after Jesus and keep our concentrate on heavenly realities.

D. Psalm 18:1-2, 14-24 is an ode to joy! The psalmist, predating but very like Paul, invites us to focus on heavenly realities–not the frustrations and disappointments of this life. Because of the mighty things Jesus has done—including demonstrating His power over death—we can rejoice in the Lord and praise Him for deliverance, provision, and protection.

We are thankful because…

1.) (V.1) The Lord is good; His love endures forever.

2.) (V.14)The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.

3.) (V.17) I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.

4.) (V.24) This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

We also celebrate the fact that (v.22) The stone the builders rejected [Jesus] has become the capstone. The capstone was either a large rectangular stone used as a lintel in a doorway, or a large square or rectangular stone used to anchor or align the corner of a wall. It might also be the keystone or middlemost stone in an arch. The capstone (building corner or doorway lintel) or keystone (arch) kept the building from collapsing by supporting what exited beside and above it. Considering this metaphor for Jesus, no wonder we call Him our Rock and our Redeemer.

The story is told of…”a man (who) took a vacation to Israel with his wife and mother-in-law. During their time in the Holy Land, his mother-in-law unexpectedly passed away. The following day, the husband met with the local undertaker to discuss funeral plans.

“In cases like these, there are a couple of options to choose from,” the undertaker explained. “You can ship the body home for $5,000, or you can bury her in the Holy Land for just $150.” The man took a minute to think about it, and then announced his decision to ship her home.

“The undertaker, intrigued by his decision, said, “That’s an interesting choice. Can I ask why would you pay $5,000 to ship your mother-in-law home, when you can easily bury her here for $150?” The man promptly replied, “About 2,000 years ago, a man died and was buried here. Three days later he rose from the dead, and I can’t take that chance!” (Subsplash website, 5 humorous Easter sermon illustrations, April 13, 2022.)

Of course there is no guarantee that the mother-in-law would have resurrected—unless she had been a believer in Jesus Christ. Additionally, we know, of course, that Jesus’ ability to raise us from the dead is not limited to the geography of Israel—thank Goodness! Nonetheless, we can enjoy a good joke.

We can also enjoy the secure future we have in Christ. Like the missionary to Brazil, Jesus entered the river of death and came out victorious on the other side. Because He did this for us, we too share in His resurrection victory—and all of its benefits.

Alleluia, He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Seven Last Words

Pastor Sherry’s message for Good Friday April 7, 2023

Scriptures: Isa 52:13-53:12; Ps 22; Heb 10:16-25; Jn 18:1-19:42

In years past, on this day, I have tried to explain to us the meanings of the 4th suffering Servant Song from Isaiah—how Jesus exactly fulfilled what Isaiah prophesied 700 yrs. before His birth—how Psalm 22 reveals His thoughts as He hung on the Cross; and the events in John’s account of Jesus’ arrest, trials, torture, crucifixion, death and burial. Today, however, I want us to visit and meditate upon what are called “the seven last words of Jesus.”

Jesus made seven statements from the Cross. Each one had to have been very important to Him because to make them, He would have had to push up on His nailed feet to gather breath to speak, while also rubbing His lacerated back against the rough, splintery wood behind Him. To make each statement must have caused Him incredible pain,

But as St. Augustine noted (354-430), “The tree upon which were fixed the members [His arms and feet] of Him dying was even the chair of the Master.” In other words, even from the Cross as His body suffered, Jesus was teaching us. Even as His death neared, He had important lessons to leave with us. Let’s examine them in order:

A. The 1st is “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Through the millennia since, this statement has been known as “the word of forgiveness.” Wow! Such a powerful lesson! As He suffered agony, He prayed for God to forgive the very persons who despised Him and were responsible for His cruel murder. What an extraordinarily loving heart! How many of us could do the same?

But this is the challenge, isn’t it? Think of those who have harmed you, and of what they did that was so hurtful. Jesus is modeling for us what He wants us to do. He wants us to forgive those who have hurt us, no matter how badly they treated us; and no matter how much we might want them to suffer in return. We are to commend them to God in prayer. We are to offer them grace. We are to let go of our need for revenge. We place that desire into the Father’s hands, Who has said, Vengence is Mine.

B. The 2nd is “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). To add to Jesus’ humiliation, the sinless Christ was hung between two guilty criminals. One continuously mocked Him, demanding that Jesus free him from their death sentence–if He were truly God. The other may have begun that way, but in watching and listening to Jesus, he realized He was someone special. Like the Centurion below, this 2nd thief came to believe that Jesus truly was the Son of God. In his brand new faith, he asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His Kingdom. Remember, Jesus had taught (Matthew 7:7) Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives….How reassuring! This guy was in the process of dying, but expressed his faith in Jesus. This is truly a last minute, death-bed conversion. I have a friend who was for years a hospice chaplain. He talked many World War II, Korea, and Vietnam vets in Washington, D.C. into accepting Jesus as their savior as they lay dying. A simple, “Yes, Lord, I believe” is enough faith for Jesus to act on.

This statement is known as the word of salvation because this guy’s faith in Jesus saves Him. You are here today because you have given your heart to Christ. Pray for family and friends who have not yet done so.

C. The 3rd is from today’s Gospel (John 19:26-27) Dear woman, here is your son; [and to the apostle, John] Here is your mother.

Jesus sees them grieving at the foot of His cross and wants them to comfort each other. It is a statement of their new relationship. In this, Jesus’ last will and testament, He provides for His mother’s comfort, safety, and companionship. Even though Jesus had several half-brothers and half-sisters, he gives “custody” of Mary to John. He appears to have been redefining or extending the concept of “family.” We have our nuclear family, into which we are born—mother, father, siblings. We also have an extended family —grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins; a clan or kinship group, if you will. However, when we are in Christ, we also have a spiritual family, people with whom we become close due to our shared faith in Jesus. If our nuclear or extended families are not Christ-followers, we often find we have more in common with our spiritual family than with blood-kin.

Additionally, our Lord never means for us to be isolated, cut off from relationships with others. He has built into us a need for community, or connection with others. Brain researchers have discovered that when we spend time with people we love and who love us, it spikes amounts of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, in our brains, and we actually feel better. Seek out folks with whom you can share your thoughts, your faith, and your heart.

D. The 4th of Jesus’ words from the cross is, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:33-35). This word speaks to Jesus’ acute suffering. The physical was agony enough. But as He hung on the cross from noon to 3pm, He experienced—for the 1st time—the emotional and spiritual agony of abandonment. Remember He had taken upon Himself all of our sins. In His holiness, God His Father could not be present with Him. For 3 hours, Jesus hung alone. For the 1st time, He felt cut off from the strength and reassurance of His Father’s love. Only His solid trust in His unseen and unfelt Father helped Him to persevere.

Did you notice that He quoted from Psalm 22:1? This was a prayer of desperation. This is also meant to teach us what to do when we too feel desperate and abandoned—cry out to God! I was once fired from a church job for preaching the Gospel. Shocking, but it can happen. I went home, knelt by my bed and wept the lament psalms to the Lord. After a brief time, He told me to stop crying and call my friends in Tallahassee, Florida. It was truly a miracle that three of them—all busy persons—answered my first call. One agreed to drive to New Orleans to help me pack and move. A second one offered me a place to live. The third agreed to help me set up a private practice counseling business until I could land a church job. The Holy Spirit worked through my friends to help me move into a new future, 2 months before Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed New Orleans. Jesus is the Only One we can truly count on when we are at the end of all of our own resources. Express your gratitude to Him for times when He Has rescued you.

E. Jesus’ 5th word was “I thirst!” (John 19:28). This, of course, refers to His very human state of dehydration. It was a statement of distressing physical need. Mark tells us He would not drink wine mixed with myrrh, a pain killer the Romans offered to those about to be crucified (Mk15:23). He knew He was to experience the totality of the pain inflicted upon Him. His last drink of anything may have been the final cup of wine the evening before at the Passover Feast. He describes His condition in Psalm 22:15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd [a broken piece of pottery], and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. The soldiers then offered him wine vinegar, which He drank from a sponge lifted up to Him. Perhaps that eased his need somewhat. But I think I thirst also means He thirsted then and continues to desire that all would come to know and believe in Him. May we also thirst for the salvation of the many in our culture who reject Christ.

F. Jesus’ 6th word was “It is finished!” (John 19:30). We know His life wasn’t finished as He was resurrected 3 days later. What was finished was His saving work to bring salvation to us all. Scholars say this was a statement of triumph. When I completed seminary, my graduating class had tee-shirts made for all of us that said, tetelestai, which means it is finished in the Greek of Jesus’ day. At the time, we thought we were being clever. Twenty + years later, it seems to me to be presumptuous and irreverent. We had just completed our mission of passing 3 years’ worth of divinity study, while Jesus had paid it all—the full penalty for all our sins—on the Cross. Thank God we are saved by His blood, the blood of the true Passover Lamb. Meditate on your gratitude for His work as our Redeemer 2,000 years ago.

E. Finally, Jesus spoke His last word, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). What a wonderful final statement of reunion! He must have known He was about to breathe His last, and so He gave Himself back to the Father. He acknowledges that His pain, suffering, and alienation from the Father were at an end. I remember how the OR room nurses gave me a warm blanket and a glass of cold apple juice just after I had given birth (back in 1974). I felt such fatigue and relief that my labor suffering—only a fraction of that of Christ—was over and that my child was safely born with all his fingers and toes. No doubt Jesus too was tired, relieved, and exhilarated.

Where will our focus be when we too face death? And are we willing to commit our spirits to God right now?

(Ideas borrowed from Kevin Vost, Seven Meditations on Christ’s Seven Last Words, 2018.)

Jesus gifted us with 7 final lessons from His Cross. May we taken them to heart. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

A Four-Day Journey

Pastor Sherry’s message for April 2, 2023

Scriptures: Isa 50:4-9a; Ps 31:9-16; Phil 2:5-11; Matt 27:11-66

Ironically, over 2000 years ago, the Sadducees had a tradition in which they believed the Messiah would show up four days before Passover. As a result, they kept the gates of the Temple open each year on this date so that He could walk right in and assume His rightful place. In fact, Jesus—the True Messiah–did choose to re-enter Jerusalem exactly 4 days before Passover, and proceeded to pray and teach in the Temple. By this time, many Jews had encountered Him. Many others had heard of His miracles, His healings, and of how He cast out demons. They were so taken by Him that crowds waited with joyous anticipation and with baited breath to see what He would do next.

The fact that Jesus chose that exact day to come back into Jerusalem would have driven the Jews’ expectations for their nation to a feverish height. They were sure He would overthrow the Romans, free them from oppression, and reign victoriously as King David had in ages past. But the Romans, too, would have heard the rumors and thus were anticipating an insurrection. They had called in reinforcements in case of an armed revolt. So tensions were very high in the city that day.

Today, we celebrate that historic day, calling it Palm Sunday–because the crowds waved palm branches in celebration of His arrival—or Passion Sunday, in anticipation of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion, a brief 4 days later. The minor prophet Zechariah had predicted what would happen some 500 years before this event took place (9:9) Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. This is exactly Who Jesus was—their righteous Savior. This is exactly what happened. This is exactly how the Jews rejoiced: As Jesus rode in, the people shouted Hosanna (actually, Yasha anna in the Hebrew), which means, Save us, Lord! They were quoting Psalm 118:25-29 O Lord, save us! O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD…. The LORD is God and He has made His light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the LORD for He is good; His love endures forever.

On this day, they were excited and delighted! But 4 days later, they were demanding His death! By then, they had realized that Jesus had failed to meet their messianic expectations. As the “2 Bubbas and a Bible” explain it, “He was not 6 feet plus, with abs of steel. He rode into town on a baby donkey, not a warhorse. He went to pray at the Temple, not to protest at the palace. Jesus did not turn out to be their idea of a savior.” (Chilton & Fairless, Lectionary Lab Commentary, Year C, 2015, p.142).

But, as our Scriptures today highlight, He was our Heavenly Father’s Idea of a Messiah:

A. In Isaiah 50:4-9a, we read what is known as the 3rd Suffering Servant Song. Written some 750-700 years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah predicts, exactly, what Jesus would experience and how He would behave as He faced and endured the Cross. Its theme is that Jesus came to earth determined to save us. He came into the world to pay the penalty for and to redeem us from our sins. He was instructed or trained for this by the Holy Spirit, and by what He read and meditated upon in Scripture (vv.4-5), the Old Testament writings available at that time.

Verse 6 tells us that His trial by the Sanhedrin led to significant suffering at their hands: They beat Him. They mocked Him. They spit in His face. They even pulled out the hairs of His beard. This was all before He was presented to Pilate for round two by the Romans.

What sustained Him? What helped Him to bear up under such torture? First, He knew His purpose. There was for Him deep meaning to His suffering. And, second, He trusted in His heavenly Father to assist and to comfort 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. His relationship and His intimacy with the Father are what propelled and compelled Him. This essentially kept Him emotionally and spiritually “bullet-proof” against the condemnation and the despicable treatment He received from the religious authorities and the forces of evil at work during His passion.

B. Philippians 2:5-11 is known as “the Philippian Hymn.” Bible scholars believe newly baptized Christians, in the early Church, memorized and recited this brief summary of exactly what Jesus did for us as a verbal profession of their faith. St. Paul included it in his letter because he wanted the church in Philippi (and us) to both understand and follow Jesus’ model of humility and obedience to the Father; as well as to realize the huge significance of what Jesus gave up—His heavenly/godly prerogatives— to become human like us. The One Who spoke creation into existence, the King of the Universe, was entrusted as a helpless infant to a poor, homeless, young couple. He lived His early life as a carpenter, eking out a living in an obscure, back-woods village. He Himself was sinless, but at the Cross He bore all our sins, past, present and future. The Great Shepherd humbled Himself and gave His life for us, His sheep.

As a result of His obedient self-sacrifice, God the Father has raised Him to the highest position of honor. At His name, every creature must bow. No person, animal, angel, or demonic entity has more power or greater authority.

C. Our psalm today (31:9-16) details Jesus’ thoughts on the way to and during His crucifixion. He abides in His Father’s love, praying to and calling out to Him in His mind: (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, extreme pain, and grief, but He does not let it overwhelm Him, or turn Him against God the Father (V.14) But I trust in You, O LORD. I say, “You are My God.” Based on His faith, He goes on to reassure Himself, (v.15) My times are in Your hands.

If only we too could remember, when suffering, to pray to God and to trust in Him to sustain us during difficult, painful times.

D. Matthew’s version of Christ’s Passion is well worth meditating on this Holy Week. Traditionally, it begins in Chapter 26 at verse 14 and continues through the end of our Gospel reading today (Matthew 27:11-66). In today’s portion, we follow Jesus from His trial before Pilate, to His exchange for Barabbas, to His beating at the hands of Roman soldiers to His crucifixion, death, and burial. He had been betrayed and abandoned by all His friends–except John and a few female followers, including His mother. His Father registered His grief and judgment against the Jewish establishment with earthquakes, 3 hours of darkness ending with Jesus’ death; and splitting the Temple curtain from top to bottom. Then, anticipating Jesus’ glorious resurrection, the Father opened some tombs, and resurrected (v.52) …many holy people.

What a journey, in 4 days, from a celebratory welcome parade, to a funeral march, to an ignominious death between 2 criminals. Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins because He believed in Scripture, in His purpose, and because He trusted in His Father’s plan and in His Father’s love. By teaching, preaching, healing, casting out demons, dying a dreadful death in our place, He faithfully completed His 1st mission to earth. He has now returned to Heaven and is seated with the Father, awaiting with us the timing of His 2nd Coming. As we wait to greet Him, let us inspire ourselves with the words of the writer to the Hebrews (12:2-3) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy set before Him [our salvation] 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.

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Resurrection Power

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 26, 2023

Scriptures: Eze 37:1-14; Ps 130; Ro 8:5-11; Jn 11:1-45

Have you ever wondered about what you might do if you were God? Jim Carey plays a guy who thinks he can do things better than God in the 2003 film, Bruce Almighty*. (Hard to believe it’s now 20 years old!) You may remember that Morgan Freeman, dressed totally in white, plays the role of God the Father. He gives Bruce His godly powers, then goes on vacation. At first, Bruce does not believe he has God’s powers.

Then he begins to experiment, with hilarious results: He starts his cranky, clunker of a car by simply telling it to start, and is gratified. He walks on water and is both scared and amazed. He produces a spoon to stir his coffee just by thinking it up. He creates a wind in a diner that parts his soup into two pools. As the movie progresses, most of what Bruce does is either silly, or selfish, or vindictive, or damaging—thereby making the point that we humans don’t have the necessary love, maturity, or wisdom to use such power judiciously. If we were God, we would most likely mess up massively.

Our scripture readings today all celebrate the phenomenal power of God, and the very wise and compassionate ways in which He utilizes it in our lives:

A. Psalm 130 sets the stage: In the ancient church tradition of naming the psalms by their first few words in Latin, Psalm 130 is called “De profundis”–or “Out of the depths.” Whoever composed this psalm captures our times of grief, despair, or overwhelm in his 1st verse: Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord. The psalmist is saying “Lord, I am at the end of my resources. Help!” Or, as I said last week, “Lord, I’m at the end of myself. Help!” We can all think of times, can’t we, when we are overtaken by profound despair, debilitating grief, or hopeless depression? If we believe in God and in His power, at some point we remember to call upon Him for help. Verse 2 reads O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If we are wise—and if we trust in Jesus—we take our distress to the Lord.

This psalmist clearly trusts in the Lord. He is very aware that we are all sinners who really don’t deserve God’s mercy, forgiveness, or grace. Yet he counts on it! He waits for the Lord to act on his behalf. My favorite verse is #7 O Israel [O Christ-followers], put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption. In other words, we can and should trust in God to love us despite our shortcomings. In other words, we can and should believe in His ability to overcome our suffering and to redeem our pain—even redeem our messes, if we surrender them to Him. Our God has the power to pull us up out of whatever depths we have sunken into.

B. Paul continues this theme in Romans 8:5-11. Before exploring the meanings of the passage, it is most helpful to begin before verse 5, at Paul’s basic premise expressed back in verse 1: Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. What a relief! If I abide in Christ—maintain my heartfelt relationship with Him—my sins aren’t counted against me. And not just me! All of our sinfulness is covered/hidden behind/or rather accounted for by the righteousness of Christ!

Back in the beginning of Lent (2/12/23), I preached on Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthian Church (3:1-9). You may recall that he differentiated between the saved and the unsaved, as well as between spiritual (Mature) Christians and carnal (Immature) Christians. He is making a similar point to the church in Rome in the remainder of this passage: Rev. Dr. Eugene Peterson paraphrases it this way (The Message, NavPress, 2002, pp.2044-2045) Those who think they can do it on their own [overcome their carnal nature] end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life…..

The carnal Christian has a mindset that is controlled by his/her sinful nature. Rev. Dr. J. Vernon McGee says our sinful nature acts like a big bully, constantly trying to ambush us and beat us up (Commentary on Romans, Thomas Nelson, 1991, p.141). It feels like that, doesn’t it? Sin beats us up!

Paul states that the sinful nature leads us to death (certainly spiritually, but often even physically). On the other hand, the Spirit-led mindset leads us into life. The Holy Spirit acts like our big brother who shows up in the nick of time to save us from the bully. I didn’t have an older brother; in fact I saved my little brother’s neck a bunch of times. But even so, I know how good that feels to know the Holy Spirit is willing to go toe-to-toe with the bully and win for my behalf.

Additionally, Paul explains, (MSG, p.2045) But if God Himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of Him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome Him, in whom He dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, He’ll do the same thing in you that He did in Jesus, bringing you alive to Himself? What a blessing!

God the Holy Spirit abides in us and protects us from the bullies. And He also functions to grow us up into mature Christians.

C. This transformative, life-giving power is revealed in Jesus in our Gospel lesson from John 11:1-45. This is the familiar story of Jesus arriving in Bethany 4 days after his friend Lazarus has died. Both of Lazarus’ sisters greet Jesus with faith statements (v.21 and v.32) Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Both sisters trust that Jesus could have healed Lazarus of his fatal illness. Though neither has heard that He has the power to restore a dead person to life, they believe in the final resurrection after we die. Jesus reveals to Martha that (vv.25-26) I am the resurrection and the life. He [or in this case, she] who believes in Me will live, even though he [she] dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.

Then Jesus prays to His Father and proceeds to bring forth a living Lazarus from the grave. The formerly dead man walks out of the grave, but is still bound up in his grave wrappings. He probably looked somewhat like a mummy—alive but not really free—so Jesus directs the onlookers to (v.45) Take off the grave clothes and let him go. Jesus, God-incarnate, has the power to raise a dead person to life. Glory to God!

This is astonishing and defies science as we understand it! If any of you has read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—which she wrote at the age of 18—you may have noted that it is not only one of the first novels in the horror genre, but it is also a morality tale. Dr. Frankenstein wants to prove that humankind can create something alive from dead matter. He cobbles together cadaver parts, then shoots incredible amounts of electricity into the monster’s body to bring it to life. Later on the amoral, rogue monster kills his creator. The moral is that humans should stay in their own “wheelhouse” and leave the creation of life to God. God can simply call a person by name to bring them come back to life.

D. Additionally, as our OT lesson shows us (Ezekiel 37:1-14), our God can also resurrect an entire nation! By the power of the Holy Spirit, God takes the prophet Ezekiel to a wasteland, desert valley in which he sees the dried, scattered, skeletal remains of innumerable warriors killed long ago in some titanic battle. God then asks Ezekiel if these bones can return to life. The prophet wisely replies (v.3) O Sovereign Lord, You alone know. Like many of us, Ezekiel knows God can do it. He’s just not sure if, in this case, God will do it. But God tells the prophet to command the bones to come to life. Ezekiel does exactly what the Lord has told him.

Even as he is still speaking God’s words over the bones, they begin to move; they reassemble into human form; and they become upright but unbreathing cadavers. .

Then God tells the prophet to prophesy to the breath (v.9) Come from the four winds, O Breath, and breathe into these slain that they may live. God allows Ezekiel (who speaks for God) to command the Breath—the ruach [the word in the Hebrew for wind, breath, or Holy Spirit] to bring these cadavers to life. He does as directed and a mighty army returns to life! Bruce Almighty asks, “Who has the power?”

Ezekiel and we know that only God has the power to bring the dead back to life! This exercise in the Valley of the Dry Bones was meant to let the Israelites know that God will one day restore that nation–not as it is today, a geographical and political entity that barely acknowledges God. But, at Jesus’ 2nd Coming, as a nation of true-believers.

Our God has such extraordinary, resurrection power over our lives that He can resurrect us when we die. Many of God’s/Jesus’ miraculous powers amaze me. But, given the eternal consequences, none is as important as is His ability to bring us to new life in Christ Jesus, and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory over death, through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

*Bruce Almighty

Follow Me into the Light

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 19, 2023

Scriptures : 1 Sam 16:1-13; Ps 23; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41

My new, favorite, contemporary, Christian song is, “Follow Me,” by Casting Crowns* (Thrive CD, 2013). The lyrics are as follows:

(Look/listen for the repeated themes.)

At the end of myself, I am empty and dry

I have nothing to give, But surrender inside.  

[Jesus responds] Let down your nets, This is not the end

From now on, you’ll be Fishers of Men. [Who is this? Peter, Lk 5:1-11]

Follow Me, Follow Me, Follow Me.  

At the end of myself, Judgment calls out my name

I’ve been looking for love, but I’m swallowed by shame. 

[Jesus responds] Throw away all your stones, Find forgiveness in Me.

Let me be your new passion, My daughter you’re free [Woman caught in adultery, Jn 8:1-11]. 

At the end of myself, I’ve done things my own way;

This world gave up on me, now it’s death I do pay.

[Jesus responds] You know who I am, I’m sin’s sacrifice;

Today you will be… in paradise.  [Thief on the Cross, Lk 23:32-45]

[Any seeker] Who is the man who calmed the seas?

And Who is this man who loves the least of these?

[Jesus responds] I am the Promised One; God gave His only Son.

And those who believe…Will live eternally.

At the end of yourself, just follow Me.

I will give you new life, just follow Me, Follow me.

If at the end of yourself, just follow Me.

You may lose everything, just follow Me.

I will give you new life, just follow Me, follow Me.

The repeated themes are, off course, Follow Me, and, At the end of myself. When we come to the end of our own resources, we know we need Jesus. Another way of saying this is that without Jesus, we are spiritually blind. Two of our Scripture passages today deal with blindness (physical and spiritual) and what it takes to come out into the Light of Christ. Let’s examine them together:

A. John 9:1-41 details Jesus’ healing of the man born blind.

The context is that of a Sabbath Day when Jesus spots this blind man begging before one of the Temple gates in Jerusalem. Blind and other physically impaired persons usually did not make a living—in those days–by practicing a trade. Instead, they customarily stationed themselves somewhere near consistent foot traffic and begged for food money from passersby.

Upon seeing him, the disciples want Jesus to explain the cause of the man’s blindness (a theoretical, theological discussion). But Jesus downplays the issue of who or what to blame, saying (v.3, The Message, Eugene Peterson, NavPress, 2002, p.1937)”You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. Then He proceeds to meet the man’s most pressing practical need, saying (vv.4-5, MSG)We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent Me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. [Remember, this was a predominantly rural culture with no one working past sundown.] For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light. (Other translations say, I am the Light of the World.) The poor guy has lived in darkness his whole life! Jesus isn’t going to stand there and argue the why’s of the fellow’s condition. He intends to heal him.

He also intends for them and for us to realize He is God. He makes an “I AM” statement—to Jewish ears, he was declaring His divinity. God the Father had identified Himself to them as “I am Who I am,” meaning that He has always existed; in a sense, our God is always exists in the present tense. In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes many I am statements so that the Jews would realize He was identifying Himself as God: I am the Living Water; I am Manna from Heaven; I am the Way, the Truth; and the Life; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the Resurrection and the Life; etc.

Now, this poor blind man has never enjoyed light in his life, but the One who is the Light of the World is going to bring it to him. He makes a kind of clay from saliva and dirt and places it on the guy’s closed eyes.

Now, consider this: The blind fellow has heard Jesus’ voice; he has felt Jesus’ touch; he has probably even smelled Jesus’ scent. He obeys his unseen Redeemer by going, as instructed, to wash the clay off in the pool of Siloam (which John tells us means “sent.” The man was sent by Jesus to the pool named “Sent”). He seems to trust Jesus, sight-unseen. He chooses to do what Jesus tells him (Contrast this with Naaman the Syrian general who was too proud to dip himself—as the prophet had instructed him—in the Jordan. His servants had to convince him to “follow orders” to obtain his healing.)

Throughout the rest of the incident, the Pharisees are trying to figure out how a rabbi who breaks Sabbath rules against working on that day—which makes Jesus a sinner in their eyes—could possibly work a miracle of God. The guys’ neighbors can’t explain it. Some of them don’t even recognize him since he is now sighted. His parents do recognize him but are afraid the religious rulers will excommunicate them if they celebrate Jesus, so they avoid committing themselves. But the grateful and spunky guy takes them to task! He’s not concerned about their theological issues. He just knows he was born blind but now has his sight.

Then Jesus turns the tables on the Pharisees when He calls them physically sighted but spiritually blind. He has worked a miracle that they cannot accept. In so doing, He has fulfilled the prophesy from Isaiah 61:1 that Messiah would restore sight to the blind. But in their confidence that Jesus cannot really be the Messiah, they refuse to see the evidence before their own eyes.

B. Paul also addresses the topic of spiritual blindness in Ephesians 5:8-14. Of course he (and we) start from knowledge that Jesus is the Light of the world. As Peterson puts it his paraphrase (MSG p.2132), Paul exhorts us You groped your way through that murk [habitual sins] once, but no longer. You are out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it. In other words, prior to accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we lived in spiritual darkness. Once we accept Jesus, we live the Light of Christ. As St. John would say later in 1 John 1:5-6 God is Light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. We demonstrate the fact that we dwell in Christ’s light by living a life different from that of our culture: We demonstrate goodness or kindness to others. We live lives that are righteous as we try to do those things of which Jesus would approve, and avoid doing the opposite. Our words and our manner reflect truth—i.e., we are sincere and genuine.

Finally, Paul urges us to (v.11) have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness….Dark deeds aren’t driven away by preaching or lecturing against them; but rather, our actions speak louder—and are a better witness to Christ—than are our words. Rev. Dr. J. Vernon McGee relates a true story of one of his parishioners. She was a married lady who grieved the fact that her husband was uninterested in Jesus. She wanted him to share her faith and to accompany her to church and in prayer. So she educated, begged, pleaded, nagged, and even resorted to crying through the two meals a day they were together. Dr. McGee told her to stop that immediately. He recommended she pray, fix excellent meals, and deal with her husband with a smile on her face and a loving attitude. It took about six months, but one day he suggested they attend church together. We cannot shame another into accepting Christ (McGee’s commentary on Ephesians, Thomas Nelson, 1991, pp.142-143).

The song I read earlier gives 3 examples of people who chose to follow Jesus: Peter, the woman caught in adultery, and the thief on the Cross. Our Gospel lesson provides an additional one, the man born blind. As with each of them, we often come to Jesus when we come to the end of ourselves; i.e., when we exhaust ourselves trying to save ourselves. We realize we can’t do it on our own. We recognize we need Jesus. Then, like the man born blind, we obey Him out of thanksgiving for His gift of salvation and healing.

Following Jesus means we don’t just claim we love Him, but we live lives that are changed due to our relationship with Him. We come to demonstrate the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22) love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, goodness, patience, faithfulness, and self-control. We live out being good, being right with God, and being truthful.

Dear Lord, help us to live lives that are pleasing to You and that reflect Your Light to a lost, angry, and hopeless world. Help us to truly follow You. May the way we live attract others to You, O Lord, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

*Follow Me by Casting Crowns’ video: