Worn Out and Done In

Pastor Sherry’s message for 6/19/2022

Scriptures: 1 Kings 19:1-18; Ps 42; Gal 3:23-29; Lk 8:26-39

What do we do when we are worn out and done in? Tired of carrying on? “On our last nerve”? Ready to “throw in the towel”? Frustrated and defeated? Out of our minds with anguish, or fear?

Our Old Testament lesson this morning, 1 Kings 19:1-18, presents us with just such a situation, and God’s rather surprising response.

The prophet, Elijah, has just enjoyed a miraculous victory over the false prophets of Baal. But then word comes to him that Queen Jezebel, a Baal-worshiper, has sworn to kill him for showing up her pagan priests.

Someone once said, Yesterday’s victories will not help you in tomorrow’s battles. (quoted by Delmer Chilton and John Fairless, The Lectionary Lab: Year C, 2015, p.217). Realizing she is a nasty, powerful, and vindictive woman, Elijah temporarily loses his religion and runs for his life. Without consulting the God he serves, he flees, then spends some time in the wilderness thinking over his situation, and decides he has had it with being a prophet. The life of a prophet is a difficult one. If you have ever been the truth speaker in a corrupt system, a badly run enterprise, or a vindictive clique, you know that truth-tellers (today we call them “whistle-blowers,” and they are protected by law) suffer. Later on, Jesus will famously say of the religious leaders of Jerusalem (Matt 23:37) O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you….

So Elijah is burnt out, depressed, and done in, afraid for his life, and hopes to turn in his prophet’s credentials. When he finally talks to the Lord, he tells Him he would just as soon die as continue on. Notice what God does: God does not engage him in a “pity party,” reviewing and recounting with him his troubles. Instead, He sends him supernatural sustenance and deep, recuperative sleep. The divine menu is so nutritious, and the rest so restorative, that Elijah is able to travel to a mountain, on foot, 40 days’ distant. He locates a cave in Mt. Horeb and settles in to wait on God.

God meets him there and curiously—since God knows everything—asks him (v.9) What are you doing here, Elijah? This is similar to when God asked Adam and Eve, after they sinned, Where are you? Had God really lost Adam and Eve in the garden? No. He wanted to see if they would admit their sin to Him. God knows what Elijah is doing there, so He must be waiting to see if Elijah can figure it out for himself. Elijah asserts he has been zealous in doing God’s work, but has encountered a bunch of serious trouble as a result. God then reveals Himself to him, not in the great things (ferocious wind, earthquake, and fire, usually signs of God’s judgment) but in a still, small whisper. After revealing Himself, God asks the same question again, (v.13) What are you doing here, Elijah? Notice again that the Lord really doesn’t respond to Elijah’s litany of troubles.

Instead, He wants Elijah to refocus on his calling. He reconfirms his calling, and sends Elijah back to do the work of a prophet: (1) He is to anoint two kings, Hazael (over Syria, a non-believing nation), and Jehu (in Ahab’s place, over Israel)—just as the prophet Samuel anointed King Saul and later, King David. A time will come when the Lord will tell Jehu to destroy Ahab’s dynasty (2 Kings 9:1-16), though Elijah will not be there to see it take place. And he is (2) to anoint his prophet successor, Elisha. Surprisingly, God appears to accept Elijah’s resignation. He reminds the prophet that He has reserved in Israel a remnant of 7,000 who love and worship Him.

What are the lessons we might take from this passage? First, God knows our struggles, our disappointments, our discouragement, our despair. Initially He may seem absent, but then He goes on to minister to our physical and psychological needs, restoring us, strengthening us. He often then reaffirms that to which He has called us.

As a single woman for over 40 years now, I have found the Lord always comes to my rescue economically, when I am down to my last few dollars. When I first hung out my shingle as a psychologist in 1991, I quickly found that if I needed $175 to pay my light bill, that amount is exactly what I made that day. He was teaching me to depend upon Him and He hasn’t failed me yet. Second, we may have come to the end of our rope, but God’s resources are vast and sufficient for our needs.

The journey God has us on is too great for us.

Elijah and we need the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and uphold us. We are overcomers by the blood of the Lamb. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Third, even if we think we are outnumbered by evil-doers and are the only ones we know who still love Jesus, we can trust that there are many others as yet unknown to us—and that God’s got us!.

Psalm 42 contains the heart cry of someone who feels alone and abandoned by God. Now we know we worship the “with us” God, Emmanuel. He never leaves or forsakes us. He has promised to be with us until the end of the age. So, like Elijah, even though we might fear the Lord has abandoned us, He has not. In verse 5, the psalmist asks himself why he is so bereft Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Then he provides his own antidote: Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.

If we ever feel like God has abandoned us, we have only to think deeply about the times in our past when He has been there for us. God does not change. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. We can also remember that Jesus has said (Matthew 16:18 on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.

Galatians 3:23-29 reminds us that we will never be abandoned by God because we are sons [and daughters] of His. Because we are “in Christ” by believing in Him, we are clothed with His righteousness. There are no “woke” divisions, no outcasts due to wrong political leanings, and no racial differences. In verse 28, Paul so famously states There is neither Jew nor Greek [no exclusions due to race or ethnicity], slave nor free [no exclusions due economic status], male nor female [no exclusions due to biological gender], for you are all one in Christ Jesus. The only criterion for inclusion is our love of and belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Our Gospel (Luke 8:26-39) today cites another particular case of a man who cannot claim membership in Christ’s Church because he is completely taken over by demons. Jesus, like God the Father with Elijah, is very calm and accommodating to the Demoniac. The poor man lacks any control over his life. He lives in isolation—never a good idea. Like lions who go after the sick and the lame, lagging behind the herd, the evil one picks us off when we are out of Christian fellowship. Even though the townspeople had tried to restrain him with chains, he uses superhuman strength to break them. I have witnessed this in the seriously mentally ill. They are often strong enough to break the holds of husky hospital attendants. This guy is so out of it that he cannot even tell Jesus his name. The strongest demon in him says his name is “Legion” (there were 6,000 soldiers in a Roman legion), meaning he is plagued by multitudes of demonic spirits. But Jesus, Who has power even over hordes of violent demons, casts them all out of him into a nearby herd of pigs. The pigs then flee into the lake and drown. The demons are destroyed. The man is restored to his right mind. He wants to follow Jesus, but the Lord tells him (v.39) Return home and tell how much God has done for you. Jesus wants him to become an evangelist, and we can assume—in his gratitude—that he does.

We worship the God who sees us and who hears us. He knows when we have reached the end of our rope and are ready to let go.

Chuck Swindoll relates the following commentary: Perhaps you recall the book by Rabbi Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People? R. C. Sproul [a famous Presbyterian preacher from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1900’s] had a great answer for that. Someone asked him on one occasion, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” His answer was classic. He said, “I haven’t met any good people yet, so I don’t know.” (Quoted in Swindoll’s The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.578). Or as Paul has written, Is any one without sin? No not one (Romans 3:10) and (Romans 3:23)…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

I think our tough times are tests, and no one escapes having them.

They may be sent by the evil one to discourage us and turn us away from God, but it seems that God allows them as a means of deepening our faith and of molding and shaping our character.

Nevertheless, our God is also the divine rescuer. He rescues a war-weary prophet. He restores a man totally overrun with demons.

Because we are His sons and daughters, He hears the cries of our hearts and responds.

The next time we find ourselves in a place of suffering, let’s try to have the attitude of today’s psalmist, as paraphrased in modern English by Eugene Peterson in The Message, p.965 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.

©️2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

The Relationship of the Trinity to Each Other and to Us

Pastor Sherry’s message for 6/12/2022

Scriptures: Prov 8:1-4, 22-36; Ps 8; Ro 5:1-5; Jn 16:12-16

Today is Trinity Sunday, a day the Christian Church celebrates the fact that we worship one God in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Lots of folks have tried to come up with illustrations that make this truth easier to understand:

1. An egg consists of an eggshell, egg white, and yolk, but remains one egg.

2. Water takes 3 forms—ice, liquid, and gas/steam—but all three are made up of water.

3. The shamrock, which St. Patrick used as he evangelized Ireland, has one plant stem, but three leaves.

4. Two new ones I came across this week include the following:

(1) You may have three different Bibles, an NIV, an ESV, and an NRSV, but all are God’s Word.

(2) Or let’s say Boris Johnson of England negotiated a Peace Treaty between Ukraine and Russia—wouldn’t that be wonderful!

(a.) One version would be printed in Russian;

(b.) Another version in Ukrainian;

(c.) And the third version in English, but all would say the same thing.

(Blogger BK -January 04, 2012, christiancadre@yahoo.com.)

Now the foregoing help explain the one-ness of the Trinity, but not the relationship between the three persons. Perhaps a good way to clarify or describe their relationship with each other is to look at ”…two wonderful Greek words that the early church theologians used to describe the Trinity: kenōsis and perichōrēsis. Kenosis is the act of self-giving for the good of another. It is found in the early Christian hymn in Philippians 2: 6-7 [Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. The word emptied translates the verb form of kenōsis. Jesus gave of himself for the good of others [us!] ….They used the word perichōrēsis, meaning “mutual submission,” to explain it. So the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are living in mutual submission to one another. This is the heart of the Trinity: giving oneself for the good of the other. (Taken from The Magnificent Story, James Bryan Smith, InterVarsity Press, 2018, www.ivpress.com).

Let me say that again: The relationship among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are characterized by each giving of Himself for the benefit of the other, with Son and Spirit each submitted to the will of the Father. They exhibit absolute cooperation with each other. They exist together in a dance of steadfast, unfailing, loyal love toward each other. The wonder is that they invited us into their dance, and model for us how to live with each other.

Let’s examine how our Scripture lessons for the day point to both the kenosis and the perichorisis of the Trinity.

A. Our Proverbs lesson (8:1-4, 22-36) speaks of wisdom as a person; i.e., the wisdom of God is demonstrated in the person of Jesus. Remember, Jesus called Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). Real truth is wisdom. I remember sitting in my class on Isaiah in seminary, and realizing that tears were sliding down my face as my spirit responded to the truth I was hearing read and explained.

In verse 4 the line reads, To you, O men, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus has done? He has called all men and women to Himself. He came to give of Himself for our benefit (kenosis). Everything He has said is worthy, right, true, and just. Read the red words written in read in your Bible (Gospels and Acts); these are the words of Jesus and they are all truth. If we could trust in His wisdom, we would be secure, at peace, and filled with love and hope.

Verse 22 tells us that Jesus possessed wisdom…as the first of His works, before His deeds of old. Wisdom was with Jesus as He spoke creation into existence. The very beginning of John’s Gospel (1:1-3) reports that In the beginning was the Word [Jesus; God’s word made flesh], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Though Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.

As verses 35-36 warn, however …whoever finds Me finds life and receives favor from the LORD [perichoresis]. But whoever fails to find Me harms himself; all who hate Me love death. YIKES!

B. Psalm 8 is a messianic psalm, written by King David, in praise of God’s creative power (the Holy Spirit). Portions of this psalm are quoted in the New Testament 3 times:

(1) Jesus, quotes verse 2 in Matthew 21:16 From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise. The context is that Jesus has just cleared the Temple of money lenders and those who sold animals for sacrifice. He was angry that His Father’s house had been made into a den of thieves. The Pharisees were furious, however, as they had not authorized His actions, nor had they sanctioned children running about praising Jesus. As Peterson relates it in his paraphrase, The Message, (NavPress, 2002,p.1786)

When the religious leaders saw the outrageous things He was doing, and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, ‘Hosanna to David’s Son!’ they were up in arms and took Him to task. ‘Do You hear what these children are saying?” Jesus said, ‘Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise?’ This was not a popular thing that Jesus had done; but since we know He only did what His Father told Him to do, He was submitted to the Father’s will (perichoresis).

(2) Similarly, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:27, quotes verse 6 [For He—God the Father–has] put everything under His feet. Paul goes on to interpret this as meaning that God the Father put all of creation under the authority of Jesus, His Son. All of creation– but not the Father Himself—so that Jesus might glorify the Father (perichoresis).

(3) The writer to the Hebrews also quotes verses 4b-8 (in 2:5-8) It is not to angels that He has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified: “What is man [humankind] that you are mindful of him, the Son of Man [Jesus] that you care for Him? You made Him [Jesus, when He came to earth] a little lower than the angels; you crowned Him [Jesus] with glory and honor and put everything under His feet.

The author of Hebrews, like Paul, asserts that God the Father has put all of creation under the authority of His Son. Furthermore, He has done this because of Jesus’ sacrificial death (kenosis) in submission to the will and plan of God the Father (perichoresis). Because Jesus died in submission to the Father’s will, the Father has…crowned [Him] so much higher than any angel, with a glory ’bright with Eden’s dawn light.’ (Peterson, The Message, p.2182.) In this great hymn of creation, Psalm 8, we discover that King David was prophesying the rule and reign of Jesus Christ—probably without realizing it.

C. In our Gospel lesson, John 16:12-16, Jesus further describes the work of the Holy Spirit. In verse 13, He calls Him the Spirit of Truth, who will guide you [meaning us] into all truth. [Sounds like wisdom to me.] He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. Do you notice that the Spirit is submitted to Jesus (perichoresis)? And that one of His jobs is to steer us in the right direction, both now and in the future (kenosis)?

Jesus also asserts that (v.15) All that belongs to the Father is mine. The three persons of the Trinity share power. They also give of themselves for the good of the other (kenosis and perichoresis) .

D. This comes home for us in Paul’s letter to the Romans (5:15). Among the benefits to us of Jesus’ saving work on the Cross are the following:

First, we are at peace with God (we have tranquility of soul). I remember meeting two women at my new church (pre-seminary, back in 1986) who were clearly filled with peace. I could see it on their faces; I could sense it in their spirits. I wanted that peace and asked them where it came from. Their answer was “Jesus.” I now have that peace and you can too. We just have to say “yes” to Him. Those who have not said “yes” to Jesus are not at peace with God. Instead of being sinners saved by grace, they are just plain sinners. Their sin separates them from God and makes them enemies of God. I have a pastor friend whose church asked her not to preach on sin. They wanted to come to church only to be uplifted. Well, if we are not made aware of our sinfulness, we will not be uplifted. Warning people about the consequences of their sins is actually a loving thing to do. It has been said that a Christian pastor is to comfort the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Thank God we believers are at peace with the Father.

Second, we can then rightfully, accurately, say that God is for us.

Third, we have direct access to the Father, through the Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus died on the Cross, He opened the way to the Father for us. In the final hours He hung on the Cross, the curtain that kept us out of the “holy of holies” was miraculously torn in two—from the top to the bottom so no one could claim a mere person had done it. As a result, like Adam and Eve before the Fall, we can walk with God through our prayer life.

Fourth, because we know the Trinity loves us, we have hope, or blessed assurance.

Fifth, we also experience meaning and purpose to our suffering. While being a Christ-follower does not protect us from suffering, we know that God is present with us in our suffering, and that He uses our suffering to produce in us perseverance and character.

The word “Trinity” is never found in Scripture, but the reality of it is. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit model for us how to live: Giving of oneself out of love for one another (kenosis), while being submitted to the will of God (perichoresis). When we choose to model our lives on the example of the Trinity, we experience peace, access to God, God’s favor, and blessed assurance, or hope. In these days of failed governmental policies, widespread corruption, increased inflation and economic hardship, unpredictable violence, and injustice, it is important to remember the hope we have in our Trinitarian God.

Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a missionary woman, watching passersby from the window of her second story apartment:

“…She was handed a letter from home. As she opened the letter, a crisp, new 10-dollar bill fell out. She was pleasantly surprised, but as she read the letter her eyes were distracted by the movement of a shabbily dressed stranger down below, leaning against a post in front of the building. She couldn’t get him off her mind. Thinking that he might be in greater financial stress than she, she slipped the bill into an envelope on which she quickly penned, “Don’t despair.” She then threw it out the window. The stranger below picked it up, read it, looked, up, and smiled as he tipped his hat and went on his way.

The next day she was about to leave the house when a knock came at the door. She found the same shabbily dressed man smiling as he handed her a roll of bills. When she asked what they were for, he replied: That’s the 60 bucks you won, lady. Don’t Despair paid five to one.” (Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Press, 1998, p.274).

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ—and the help of the Holy Spirit. Alleluia, alleluia!

©️2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

What Did Jesus Really Say?

Pastor Sherry’s message for May 8, 2022

Scriptures: Acts 9:32-43; Ps 23; Rev. 7:9-17; Jn 10:22-30

Solomon once wrote (Ecclesiastes 1:9), What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” The longer I live, the more true his words seem. Now he was not talking about technological or scientific advances. Certainly Solomon never anticipated cell phones, computers, electric cars, or social media, etc. He was talking about the regularity, the predictability of human behavior. People are people, no matter their culture, nationality, gender, the time period during which they live, or any other identifier (the basis of the field of Psychology). While our personalities may differ, one from another, our needs, motives, and actions are pretty similar, and–if one knows enough about a person—our behaviors can often be correctly predicted.

Take the Jewish religious leaders that Jesus encounters in today’s Gospel (John 10:22-30), for example. Jesus is teaching on Solomon’s Porch, in winter, during the Feast of Dedication. This annual celebration commemorated the time, in 167 BC, when Judas Maccabaeus led a successful Jewish revolt to free the Temple from the horrendous and heretical practices of the Syrian King, Antiochus Ephiphanes. By this time in His ministry, (precrucifixion) Jesus has given up on convincing the religious hierarchy that He is the Messiah. He’s not in the Temple itself, but on a porch dedicated to Gentile use. He is teaching His disciples, the ones who believe He is who He says He is. But the religious establishment pursues Him, butts in, and accuses Him of keeping His identity a secret. What?

Haven’t they been listening and watching? No, they fear His popularity with the people, so they have become “spin-doctors” who hope to twist His words to discredit Him—There is nothing new under the sun!

We have seen evidence of this tactic this very week in the leaked Supreme Court opinion draft. The justices write that constitutionally the Supreme Court does not have the power to legislate regarding abortion (pro or con). This power properly belongs to state governments, decided upon via elections. And yet pro-abortionists claim the proposed verdict (overturning the 50 year old Roe v. Wade precedent) condemns abortion and is anti-women. That just isn’t so, but that is how it is being presented in demonstrations and in the media.

In verse 24, the religious elite demand to know, How long will You keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly. How ridiculous! They have not been listening. They make it sound like He is a covert operator. They imply He is up to no good. He answers them (vv.25)🡪I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in My Father’s name speak for Me, but you do not believe because you are not My sheep. 1.) His miracles—healing, casting out demons, multiplying food, raising 3 people from the dead, calming storms, etc.—all authenticate His Messiahship. 2.) His lineage (tribe of Judah, descendant of King David) and birthplace (Bethlehem) match up with Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah. He was introduced by the prophet, John the Baptist—again in fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy. He lacked a formal education—as with Rabbi Hillel or Gamaliel–but taught with authority, wisdom, and accuracy. No one ever witnessed Him sinning. Everything He did and said testified to His being the Messiah, but they refused to believe in Him.

In verse 26, He confronts them–>but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. Additionally, He tells them He knows they are not His sheep because (v.27) My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow Me…(v.30) I and the Father are One. In other words, “you may be religious authorities, but you have held too tight to the box in which you have put your limited notions of God, and thus you have not recognized your God walking among you. They have totally missed that He is the Good Shepherd and their Shepherd King. Thanks be to God that the members of this congregation all know Jesus and thanks be to God that you have not let your prejudices or preconceptions blind you to His identity as our One, True Messiah!

Our Scriptures today all reference Jesus as our Messianic Shepherd King, and they all assume that we His sheep hear His voice.

A. In our Acts 9:32-43 passage, Peter is doing what Jesus told him to do —Feed my sheep. Peter is following Jesus’ model, doing for Jesus’ people what Jesus Himself did. First, Peter heals a paralyzed man named Aeneas. Remember, Jesus had said to the man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:8), Get up! Pick up your mat and walk! Similarly, Peter says (v.34), Jesus Christ heals you [he cannot heal in his own power, but only in the name of Jesus]. Get up and take care of your mat. And again, like Jesus did with the Widow of Nain’s son, or the 12YO daughter of Jairus, or His friend, Lazarus, Peter raises the widow Tabitha/Dorcas from the dead.

Peter has clearly been transformed into who Jesus meant for him to be: He has remembered and is now compliant with Jesus’ command to him, Feed My sheep. He is doing the work of healing, preaching, and teaching the “lost” of Israel. He is revealing to them that Jesus is their Messiah. He is demonstrating to them the new, improved version of Peter—the one who listens to and obeys Jesus.

B. Psalm 23 is so familiar to all of us. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want/be in want (v.1). King David is praising God for the wonderful ways in which He has cared for him and for us (which assumes he and we hear His voice). He provides for us (vv.2-3), using the analogy of caring for sheep—He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness. He discerns our needs, and He gently guides us in the direction He knows will see that they are met. He protects us with His trusty shepherd’s Crook. He feeds us (manna in the past, Communion in the present, and the Wedding Super of the Lamb to come), and blesses us. He even helps us feel at home in His House.

King Jesus still shepherds us today, if we can tune out the world long enough to hear His still, small voice. Still and small does not mean His voice is not powerful–Marlin Brando, for instance, spoke softly in “the Godfather,” and few people ignored his authority. It just means that we have to be attuned to discern it. We don’t let our preconceptions drown out His words.

C. In Revelation 7:9-17 (v.17)🡪For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

The heavenly perspective again pictures Jesus as earth’s Shepherd King. Jesus will govern over us, while the Father Himself will comfort us. The passage presents us with a lovely word-picture of worship in Heaven:

Believers in Christ are so numerous there that no one can count them all.

They come from all times, all places, and all races; they include Old Testament believers; all born-again Christians; and Jewish believers who will be martyred during the Great Tribulation. All are united in worshipping at the throne of God. All are led by our Shepherd King, Christ Jesus.

D. Our Gospel passage is John 10:22-30. Back in verse 14, Jesus revealed Himself as the Good Shepherd. In other words, to the Hebrew ear, He was saying that He is God because God the Father had previously revealed Himself to them as their Shepherd. He is saying He is the one God referred to in Ezekiel 34:22-24 (after castigating the bad kings and idolatrous religious leaders of Israel) —Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says… I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them a shepherd, my servant David [meaning Jesus, out of the lineage of David, because Ezekiel prophesied after King David’s death], and He [Jesus] will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David [meaning Jesus] will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken. So when Jesus says that He is the One who will protect His sheep—not the snobby, hypocritical religious elite–and, when He says He is the One who will comfort them and provide for them, He is saying to them, openly, I am God. Those who believe in Me follow Me (do My will); those who don’t—like the religious elite–just don’t get it.

The message for us is that we know we belong to Jesus—are His sheep–by being attuned to His voice, hearing Him and obeying Him.

With regard to Human behavior, There is nothing new under the sun. However, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8)! Let’s pray:

Lord, help us to discern Your voice when You speak to us. Most of us here have, in one way or another, heard and recognized Your voice– some more often than others; and some may hear more distinctly than others. But please help us all to clearly hear what You actually say to us. Expand the boxes we have put you in to include the truth of Who You are. Help us to let go of our preconceptions and mistaken ideas about You. Lord, thank you that You are trustworthy. Thank you that we can feel secure in the promise that we cannot be snatched out of Your hands, and in the hope that we will one day be among that huge throng of heavenly worshippers. Finally, help us Lord to do the work You have set before us. Help us each to recognize lost or misguided neighbors (sheep) who come into our lives. Help us to speak lovingly to them about You. Like Peter (and You, Lord Jesus), help us to shepherd them. And help us to follow You, Lord Jesus, all the days of our lives. Amen!

May it be so!

©2022 Rev. Pastor Sherry Adams

Stay in Tune

Pastor Sherry’s message for 4/24, 2022

Scriptures: Acts 5:27-39; Ps 150; Rev 1:4-8; Jn 20:19-31

I don’t know much about organs—the musical instrument—but I have read that among the many “stops” on most organs there are 4 of particular importance:

1. The Diapason or principal stop, which appears to heighten volume;

2. The Flute stop, which gives us the tones of a flute;

3. The String stop, which gives us the tones of string instruments like the violin, viola, etc.;

4. and the Vox Humana (the Human voice), which, ironically, is very seldom in tune. It seems if it is tuned when the temperature is cold, it will go out of tune when the environment warms up. If tuned when warm, it goes out of tune when the AC is turned on. This is such a lovely image of us, isn’t it? We easily get out of tune with God.

The Bible commentator, J. Vernon McGee uses the metaphor of these 4 stops to explain the meaning behind Psalm 150. He says opening up the Diapason/principal stop is like when Jesus stepped up to speak creation into existence. It burst forth in all of its glory! Stars, space, earth all sang out praises to God the Father. Remember, Paul said (Romans 8:19-22) that all creation groans as it awaits Jesus’ 2nd Coming. And Jesus told the Pharisees that even the rocks would cry out if He forbade His disciples from praising Him (Luke 19:40). The Flute stop, when opened, sounded like birds and angel choirs who then added their songs of praise. When the String stop was opened, light hummed across the universe, and all of creation sang in harmony to the Lord!

(Rev. Dr. J. Vernon Mcgee, Commentary on Psalms, pp.191-192.)

As Psalm 150:6 says Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! You see, we were created to worship God. He is both our Creator and our Redeemer. Perhaps you remember the Westminster Shorter Catechism question–written in 1646 by a team of Anglicans and Presbyterians, containing 107 questions that explain Christian doctrine– “What is the chief end [purpose] of man [kind]? The answer is, It is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” By glorify is meant that we give Him the weight He is due because He is preeminent over all other things. Because of His supremacy, we are to praise Him/delight in Him always.

When the Vox Humana was added, however, it was found to be out of tune. We human beings are often out of step with God and out of tune.

So the question presents itself, “How do we humans stay in tune with creation and with God?”

A. Psalm 150 tells us we stay in tune with God when we praise Him and when we allow Him to carry the most weight in our lives.

Many folks today are out of tune with God because they either do not know Him; or, they do not respect Him. Many rich folks believe their money and their ingenuity are all they need. Similarly, numerous university professors, scientists, and medical doctors believe their intelligence saves them. Other folks use drugs, alcohol, serial love affairs, and other addictions to fill the God-shaped hole in their lives. They don’t trust God to help them, so they rely on whatever they can find to comfort themselves or numb themselves out.

Thus, McGee writes in his commentary on Psalm 150, p.194 “Today you and I are living in a created universe that is actually singing praise to God. But men are out of tune. Man is in discord. God’s great purpose is to bring man back into the harmony of heaven.” That is why Jesus went to the Cross, died, and rose again. His costly and loving sacrifice brought those of us who believe in Him back into tune with God and with the universe.

B. The apostles knew this. In our Acts 5:27-39 passage, we read of the account of early persecution of the enfant Christian Church. Led by the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin convenes to reemphasize to the apostles—who they have arrested–that they should stop teaching in Jesus’ name.

Peter and the other 10 reply (v.29) We must obey God rather than men! Jesus had told them (in the Great Commission) to take the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Teaching and preaching in the Temple was their faithful response to the first part of this command.

Their insistence on continuing, despite the Sanhedrin’s condemnation of them, infuriated the Jewish leaders. Some hotheads among them urged them to execute them. But Rabbi Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher, recommended a wiser course of action (vv.38-39)…in the present case, I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. (The presence of Christ-followers to this day proves Gamaliel right.) Gamaliel prevailed and the apostles kept right on preaching the Gospel.

Even though they were flogged, they rejoiced due to their release, but also due to God’s power over the views of men, and because they had shared in some of Jesus’ suffering (the flogging). They had seen the Resurrected Christ! They were empowered by the Holy Spirit. And they were very clear about their purpose. Obeying Jesus, whatever the cost, was how they stayed in tune with Jesus.

C. Our Gospel lesson, John 20:19-32, recounts the need for the apostles, but especially for Thomas, to see and to touch the risen Christ. The 10 believed because they saw Him and interacted with Him on Easter Day. Because Thomas was absent at the time, he missed out. But once he touched Jesus, a week later, he knew the resurrection stories were true.

He then exclaims (v.28) My Lord and my God! This is a profound and a beautiful expression of his faith. But notice that Jesus goes on to bless all of us who have not seen Him in the flesh–who have not touched His crucifixion wounds—and yet we believe. Clearly, Jesus commends faith that arises out of something beyond physical experience. As the writer to the Hebrews asserts (11:1) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. You just know that you know, even if you can’t always explain it to someone else. We stay in tune with Jesus when we believe in Him.

D. In Revelation 1:4-8, the apostle John journeys into heaven (in a vision) where he sees that Jesus is the One Who is all He claimed to be:

1. He is the faithful witness the One who came from heaven to earth to reveal and explain to us the Truth.

2. He is the firstborn from the dead the first to rise from the dead and never to die again. Jairus’ 12 year old daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, and Lazarus were all raised from the dead by Jesus. However, unlike Jesus, they all experienced death a second time. By His resurrection, Jesus Christ overcame death for Himself and for us.

3. He is the ruler of the kings of the earth the rightful heir to the promised eternal throne of King David.

4. He is (v.8) the Alpha and the Omega…the One who is [currently in heaven], and who was [walked the earth 2000+ years ago], and who is to come, the Almighty.

In verse 4, John mentions the seven spirits before His [God the Father’s] throne. This means the complete Holy Spirit, not that there are 7 separate Holy Spirits. The number 7, to the Hebrews, meant either perfection or completeness. Consider how often 7—for completeness–appears in the context of God’s dealings with humankind: The Sabbath and worship of God occur on the 7th day (We Christ-followers changed it to the first day of the week in honor of Jesus’ resurrection.) In Joseph’s Egypt, there were 7 years of plenty and 7 of famine. Namaan the Syrian was told to wash in the Jordan 7 times to be healed of his leprosy. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia, was crazy for 7 years. There are 7 Beatitudes in Matthew. There are 7 petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. Seven loaves (and 2 fish) fed the 5,000. Jesus made 7 statements from the Cross. (See J. Vernon McGee, Commentary on Revelation, p.39.) And John reports in his Gospel that Jesus made 7 “I am” statements, all ways of saying He was and is God. So, we stay in tune with Jesus when we believe He is completely and thoroughly God, as well as man.

Our scripture passages today all attest to the ways we can stay in tune with our God:

1. When we praise God and allow Him to carry the most weight in our lives.

2. When we obey God.

3. When we learn to enjoy God first of all.

Think of what He has done and continues to do for us. It is human nature to think we experience joy when we meet our needs first. But the paradox is the Truth: When we learn to enjoy God above self (and others), we tap into the “organ stop” that blasts out joy.

4. When we believe without seeing Jesus in the flesh.

5. When we believe because we know Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the be-all and the end-all, the completeness of God.

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Easter Punctuation

Pastor Sherry’s message for 4/17/22,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Peter,

2. The 12 minus Judas;

3. More than 500 disciples;

4. His brother, James;

5. And Paul himself.

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

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

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

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

We welcome glad Easter when Jesus arose

And won a great victory over His foes.

Then raise your glad voices, all Christians in song.

Bring glad Easter tidings to Jesus your King.

We tell how the women came early that day

And there at the tomb found the stone rolled away.

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

Your Savior is risen and He is not here.

We think of the promise which Jesus did give:

That he who believes in Me shall also live.’

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Good Friday Message

Pastor Sherry’s message for April 15, 2022.

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

Our Scripture passages today are all very solemn, fitting this day we remember the death of our Lord, Jesus Christ, on the Cross. The Passion narrative according to John takes us through Jesus’s “kangaroo trials” to His crucifixion.

First, He is arrested. He had made Himself disappear suddenly, in the past, when He did not intend to be captured. In Nazareth, after He had read the passage from Isaiah (61:1-2) that contains the job description of the Messiah and said Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, His hometown friends tried to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:29-30). However, He walked through the midst of them and vanished. This time, though, He chose to remain and to face what was coming.

Did you notice that those who came to arrest Him fell back when He identified Himself as Jesus of Nazareth (v.6)? He seemed firmly in control as He calmly surrendered. They had sent a group of some 500 men to capture Him, armed with clubs and weapons, but He wouldn’t allow a fight to ensue. He tells them to let His disciples go. Luke tells us He even healed Malchus’ ear after Peter had cut it off (Luke 22:50-51). This should have made some impression on those who came to arrest Him. Surely they might have wondered if He were not someone special.

From the garden, they take him to the palace of Annas, the former high priest. Out of favor with the Romans, Annas was still the religious power broker of Jerusalem. Biblical scholars say he was both brilliant and satanic. Many credit him with this plan to eliminate Jesus; they had just awaited the “right time” and a Judas to appear. So they arrest Him under the cover of night, when all those who loved and believed in Jesus would be at home.

Jesus challenges Anna’s court honestly, confronting the guy who hit Him (v.23) If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike Me? Jesus, again calmly but firmly, reminds them they are out of line: by Jewish law,

1.) No court trial could begin at night/be held at night;

2.) No one could strike a person on trial without a verdict;

3.) Furthermore, Jewish Law prohibited sentencing a man on the day he was brought to trial.

But this trial at Annas’s was a mockery of justice.

Annas then sends Him to Caiaphas, the Roman’s choice for “high priest,” as well as Annas’s son-in-law (a 1st century example of nepotism). John reminds us that earlier (John 11:50), Caiaphas had said to the Sanhedrin You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish. Caiaphas did not realize at the time that he was speaking prophetically. Nevertheless, Jesus knows He is laying down His life for the sins of Israel and for us. Caiaphas and Annas both find Jesus guilty of blasphemy, because He admitted He is the Son of God. He–the Way, the Truth, and the Life– is accused of lying even though He told the truth. How ironic! They would have liked to have stoned Jesus, but the Romans forbade any nation to invoke capital punishment but them.

So Jesus is next sent to the Roman, Pontius Pilate. Pilate tries every which way to free Jesus. He knows the Jewish religious hierarchy is just jealous of Him. Even though Pilate believes Jesus is innocent, he still has Him scourged (39 lashes with a whip), hoping this will satisfy them. He offers to set Jesus free due to the Passover Holiday. He can find nothing wrong with Jesus, but hands Him over to be crucified when the Jews threaten to tell Caesar that Pilate has released a man claiming to be king of the Jews.

And so, trading the sinless Son of God for a murderous insurrectionist, the Jewish leadership have their way and Jesus is crucified. Ironically, the sign on His cross identifies Him as King of the Jews: It is written…

1.) In Hebrew—the language of religion;

2.) ,In Greek—the language of culture and education;

3.) And in Latin—the language of law and order in the Roman world.

The Jews want it adjusted, but Pilate will not bend.

Notice that John does not tell us much about the crucifixion. None of the Gospel writers do. They highlight Jesus’ dignity. They did not want us to focus on Christ’s agony. In fact, the Bible commentator J. Vernon McGee says the Father deliberately made darkness come over the land from noon until 3:00pm so watchers could not see Jesus’ intense suffering as He took on all the sin of the world, past, present, and future; and as the Father turned His back on Him. We are told that soldiers gamble over who will get His clothes. John then relates three of the 7 statements Jesus makes as He is dying:

1.) He asks John to care for His mother, Mary;

2.) He says He is thirsty;

3.) And, lastly, He asserts, It is finished [meaning the work of salvation He was sent to do]. Finally, we learn He was taken down and buried just before the Sabbath began at sundown.

To get a sense of what the crucifixion was like for Jesus, we have to turn to Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the 4th and final Suffering Servant Song, a Messianic Prophecy, often referred to as the Gospel in the Old Testament. Isaiah tells us Jesus will be raised high, lifted up (on the Cross) but also highly exalted (when it is all over). No one would think so as they observed Him carrying His Cross. He will in fact startle or surprise the whole world—even render them speechless—because it will be through the loss of all things that He gains all things.

Seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah accurately predicts the kind of death Jesus will endure. An ordinary man to begin with—not a Rock Star–He will be (v.3) despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering…; beaten beyond recognition; pieced, crushed, oppressed, afflicted; killed in the worst possible way–like a common criminal–hung between true felons; he will die childless—“cut off,” to the Hebrews, evidence of a tragic, futile existence. People will think He got what He deserved, but He didn’t…verses 4-5 Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows….the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. In verse 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.

The Father will richly reward Him (verse 11) After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life [resurrection], and be satisfied…Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong.

God intends to reward Him as though He were a king sharing in the spoils of a great victory, because He went willingly to death, and because He interceded for our sins.

Psalm 22 reveals to us Christ’s thoughts on the cross: He feels forsaken by His Father: The Father was with Him when He was arrested. The Father was with Him during His ludicrous trials. The Father was with Him when He was beaten. The Father was with Him when He was nailed to the Cross. But the Father turned His back on Him when He became sin for us, from noon until 3:00pm.

He admits to feeling like a worm. The word for worm in the Hebrew is the Coccus worm, which emitted a substance used to make red dye. This is symbolic of Jesus’ blood poured out for us. From the Cross He feels surrounded by His enemies: The soldiers are many bulls…the strong bulls of Bashon. His tormentors from the foot of the Cross—scribes, Pharisees, the hostile mob—resemble (v.13) roaring lions tearing their prey; and verse 16 dogs have surrounded Me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. Nevertheless, He trusts in the love of His Father.

Biblical Scholars tell us Jesus fulfilled 28 prophecies of the Messiah from the Cross. We can recognize them in our Psalm and Isaiah passages. The sinless Son of God laid down His life for us, paying the penalty for our sins; reconciling us to God the Father; and clothing us in His righteousness. These Sacred writings prove to us that Jesus—and only Jesus—was and is the Messiah, the Son of God. Let us ponder His sacrifice and offer Him our gratitude and love.

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Looking for Jesus

Pastor Sherry’s message for 04/10/2022

Scriptures: Isa 50:4-9a; Ps 31:9-16; Phil 2:5-11; Lk 23:1-49

Two of my favorite Bible commentators, the Rev. John Fearless (a Baptist) and the Rev. Delmer Chilton (a Lutheran), who call themselves “Two Bubbas and a Bible”), recount the following story:

“…an American was vacationing in a small [Danish] fishing village. On Sunday, he attended services in the ancient church, which dated back almost a thousand years. He went early so as to see everything. There was one thing that stood out. During the prelude, everyone who came in stopped halfway down the aisle and, turning to the right, bowed in the direction of the blank wall. Everybody, no exceptions. When the choir and the pastor came in, they too stopped and bowed to the blank wall. After the service, the visitor stood outside and talked to a few folks who knew English and eventually he asked them about the practice of bowing to the blank wall.

“And they all said, “We don’t know, we’ve always done that.” He asked the pastor. He said, “I don’t know. They were doing that when I came and I saw no reason to stop them.” The pastor did promise to find out and write the visitor.

“A few months later he received a letter from the Danish pastor. When the church was built, around the year 1150AD, there had been a mural of the Madonna and Child painted on that spot on the wall. At the time of the Reformation, when the Danish church went from Catholic to Lutheran, the mural was painted over and the people were instructed to stop bowing to the wall. But the people of the village ignored a long line of ministers telling them to stop bowing to the wall, until the clergy gave up, and eventually the people and the pastors all bowed to the wall and all forgot why.”

(Fearless & Chilton, The Lectionary Lab, Year C, 2015, pp.142-143)

I think this story provides such a good example of how our expectations and habitual ways of acting—even if incorrect—get set into stone. This is Palm Sunday, the day we commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. They welcomed Him as King and Redeemer, laying palm fronds at the feet of the donkey on which He rode and shouting “Hosanannas,”—the Hebrew version of “hurray” or “glory be!” Jewish kings traditionally rode donkeys rather than large white chargers (horses), as we would imagine. So, He entered the Holy City as Israelites would have expected of a King. Then, as they observed Him teach daily in the Temple, we see some become more and more disappointed in Him. The Jewish religious leaders find Him intelligent and extremely knowledgeable about Scripture—and able to cast out demons and heal people– but not their idea of the Messiah they expected, so they charged Him with blasphemy.

Judas, too, expected a military Messiah who would rid the Jews of pagan Roman control. Over time, he lost faith in Jesus’ meek and mild approach. He wanted the King Jesus we will see in the end times, at His second advent, coming to slay evil doers. Surely some of the crowd that gathered at His trials felt similarly. The Messiah Jesus demonstrated was not the Messiah they wanted. So they would rid themselves of Him, and continue, figuratively, their empty, vapid practice of “bowing to the blank wall.” They are still waiting for the Messiah. (Please understand I am not mocking the current practice of Jewish worshippers who pray at the “Wailing Wall” in Jerusalem. Although it is a blank wall, it is also the remains of the Temple and they gather there to pray not to the wall but to our God.)

Just prior to our Isaiah passage today (50:4-9a), in verses 1-3, God explains why He has set Israel aside: It is precisely because they rejected His Son, Jesus. Persisting in “bowing to the blank wall,” they overlooked how perfectly Jesus’ life fulfilled Isaiah’s descriptions of the Suffering Servant. Isaiah 50 contains the 3rd of 4 Servant Songs. All four, written some 700 years before Christ, describe exactly how the Messiah would behave. Biblical scholars tell us the Jews did not know what to make of these passages. Some parts seem predictive of the prophet Isaiah’s life, but most descriptions contained therein do not fit him. They do fit Jesus.

In today’s passage, Jesus is speaking (thru the prophet). In verses 4-5 He says the Father has given Him an “instructed tongue.” He steeped Himself in Scripture study, during His years as a carpenter, before beginning His public ministry, so He knew God’s Word. Then God guided His actions thru prayer The Sovereign Lord has opened My ears. Jesus conversed often with His Father; He listened to and obeyed God’s directions.

Jesus asserts I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back.

The Gospel writers–Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—all record His treatment at the hands of His enemies (v.6) I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting. He could have resisted them (John 19:11), or disappeared as He had in Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30); but He knew He had to die on the cross to save us from the penalty God’s justice demanded for our sins.

Isaiah further records that because Jesus trusted in God, His Father, He was able to suffer through what they did to Him (v.7b-9) Therefore have I set My face like flint [He was determined], and I know I will not be put to shame. He Who vindicates Me is near…It is the Sovereign Lord who helps Me. They may not have seen Him as their Messiah, but He is God’s Messiah and He is our Messiah.

Psalm 31 was written by King David as a prayer for deliverance from his enemies. The portion we read responsively today (vv.9-16) seems to speak prophetically for both David and, later, Jesus. In verses 9-10, they both are asking for God’s mercy because they are exhausted physically and emotionally. In verses 11-12, David and Jesus both express grief at being abandoned by their friends in their time of need (remember Peter, James and John fell asleep in the Garden and only John stood as a witness at the foot of Jesus’ cross).

Despite their grim circumstances and their despair, however, both Jesus and David exclaim (vv.14-15) I trust in You O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hands….Actually the number of our days are all in God’s hands. No wonder God considered David, “a man after My [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). No wonder God honored Jesus’ great faith and obedience.

Paul describes Jesus’ great faith and obedience in Philippians 2:5-11. Scholars believe this was originally a hymn sung by the early Christian Church that Paul is quoting to make his point. He wants us to have the same attitude as Jesus: Be humble; Be guided by agapeo love, that longsuffering, loyal, merciful, grace-filled love that God has for all of us. Further, he wants us to be cognizant of Jesus’ great sacrifice of Himself for us: He left His heavenly prerogatives behind—but not His divinity–when He left heaven for His incarnation. The King of the Universe became a servant so as to…(1) walk among us; (2) experience life as we do; and (3) to die—though sinless–as a criminal to redeem us.

God the Father then exalted Him such that at His name, every knee in the universe will [someday] bow and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. This means all evil doers. This means all atheists and nonbelievers.

This means everyone who worships other gods. All of them, and all of us, will agree that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

Our Gospel passage is the Passion of Christ according to Luke (23:1-49). It’s a long passage in which Dr. Luke leads us from Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin to His death on the Cross and burial in the tomb.

Remember, Luke’s motive was to write an orderly account of Jesus’ ministry by interviewing Jesus’ contemporaries, followers, and relatives. He compiled and recorded eye-witness testimony from those who were there. So we learn some in the Sanhedrin paid for slanderers to bring false accusations against Him. They claimed He …subverted our nation, though He never incited violence. They lied and claimed He…opposes paying taxes to Caesar, when He had in fact produced a fish with a coin in its mouth to (Matthew 22:21), Render to Caesar what is Caeser’s; i.e., to pay the tax. They charged Him with falsely claiming to be the Messiah when He was and is the Messiah.

Pilate tried to get the mob to back off, but they pressured him to crucify Him—just a few days following His triumphal entry into the city.

Jesus hung on the Cross from 9am until 3:00pm. Darkness covered the land from noon until 3. He called out to God, surrendering His spirit to the Father.

We also learned that a Pharisee named Joseph of Arimathea (a town 20 mi. NW of Jerusalem) laid His body in a new tomb, just before the Sabbath began. Jesus was the passover Lamb, slain to save us from death.

As John the Baptist proclaimed (John 1:29) Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Are we like the folks in Jerusalem, looking for our idea of Jesus? In looking for the Jesus we have placed in a box bordered by our own expectations, are we overlooking the One who is real and true? This Holy Week, we want to look for Him as He reveals Himself… in the Scriptures; in prayer; in our worship together (Good Friday service at noon; Easter Sunday); and in our lives.

We want to cast off all of our mistaken ideas of Who we imagined He is (stop bowing to the blank wall) and come to terms with the reality of Who He is:

(1) Suffered, crucified for our sakes;

(2) Risen, glorified, opening the way to heaven for us;

(3) Later resurrected as King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

We want to say, like Jesus and like King David, in Psalm 31:16) Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. Amen! May it be so!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Grown-ups or Parents?

Pastor Sherry’s message for 3/27/2022,

Scriptures: Jos 5:9-12 ; Ps 32; 2 Cor 5:16-2; Lk 15:1-32

A 5 year old girl asks her mother, “Is God a grown-up or a parent?”

The mother wants to be sure she understands where the child is coming from, so she asks, “What’s the difference between a grown-up and a parent?” The child says, “Grown-ups love you when you are good, but parents love you anyway.” So, based on the child’s understanding, God is… a parent.

In our Gospel this morning, the Scribes and the Pharisees are grown-ups, aren’t they? They are the guardians of the do’s and the don’ts. They are the arbiters of good and bad behaviors. So, they separate themselves out from tax collectors, who they see as sell-outs to their Roman oppressors. The Romans had these folks gather taxes for Rome, and then slowed them to add whatever they wanted for themselves. The Jews knew Rome had thus unleashed foxes into the proverbial hen house, and resented it mightily. They also viewed tax collectors as collaborators with pagans. Pharisees and Scribes also avoided contact with sinners, fearing contamination. Now it is human nature, isn’t it, for us to try to figure out who’s in and who’s out; who’s “hot” and who’s not; or who’s “cool” and who’s a fool. So we can cut them some grace for just being people. But isn’t it true that we in the Church, if we are not careful, can also become grown-ups? Like the Scribes and Pharisees, we too often judge others and decide they come up short. These fellows are judging Jesus and are seriously questioning His “Good Person credentials.” (They are judging God. YIKES!)

Now I am going to depart from my usual practice of trying to explain what God is wooing or challenging us to do in each passage assigned for today. Instead, I want to focus on what Jesus, knowing their “grown-up hearts” is telling the Scribes and Pharisees-–and us–in 3 parables Luke groups together as stories regarding “the lost.”

It is no accident that the “God-figures”—the people who act like God– in these first two are low status folks: In the 1st parable, the religious elite would distain shepherds because they lived a nomadic, outdoor life (didn’t attend Synagogue regularly). And, often lacking water, or having to bandage up injured, bloody sheep, they were unable to keep the purity laws. In the 2nd, no self-respecting rabbi or Pharisee would either see or speak to a woman. That’s why Jesus talking with the woman of the well (John 4:1-42) was so radical. The disciples were speechless when they found Him alone with her; not only that, but the two were discussing serious theological issues. Women of that day were not allowed to go to rabbinical school, or to study Torah. Ben Sirach, a noted teacher of the time, wrote the birth of a daughter is a loss. Jewish men of Jesus’ time often thanked God each day that they had not been born a woman. This is also why Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50), was so put out that Jesus would allow a woman to touch Him (she washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair). Women in that day did not touch rabbis, and women of low reputation certainly did not dare.

The son in the 3rd parable had high status until he severely disrespected his father. He asked for his inheritance. Then as now, sons only inherited at the death of their father. Asking so early was tantamount to saying, “Father, I wish you were dead!” Fathers in the Ancient Near East had life/death control over their children. The younger son is the lowest status member of this family; thus, his request would have been viewed as especially despicable and selfish. Friends, neighbors, and relatives–had they known–would have expected the father to drive this greedy son away with yelling and with blows. They would have further expected the father to banish him from the family forever.

Given this cultural understanding, let’s look 1st at the Parable of the Lost Sheep. We are well familiar with this wonderful story, aren’t we? The shepherd, the Good Shepherd, values His one lost sheep enough to spare no effort to locate it. Did you ever wonder who was looking out for the 99? Maybe Jesus just said to them, “stay,” and they did. Or probably some assistant shepherd remained behind to watch over them. We don’t know what He goes through to locate the lost sheep, but only that He rejoices when He finds it. The fabulous point is that God loves us all enough to go to great lengths to find us, and rejoices when He does. Consider John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Through Jesus, God saved all. Not all appreciate this, so not all will claim their salvation by saying “yes” to Christ. Paul writes in 1 Tim 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…. John insists similarly in 1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as He [Jesus] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.

The truth is that our chief, most important identity is not our gender, race, nationality, credentials, or our status. It is that we are loved by God. If we have accepted Jesus, we are each children of God the Father and inheritors of His Kingdom through Christ Jesus. We are sinners redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ. Like St. Paul, we realize that before we ever did anything to merit God’s attention, regard, or affection, He loved us and desired intimate relationship with each of us. Our God is a loving parent, rather than a disapproving grown-up. So Jesus is saying to the Scribes and the Pharisees in this 1st parable, you should be like this Shepherd.

In the Parable of the Lost Coin, we find a female image to balance the (predominantly male) shepherd image, which is something St. Luke often tries to do (because Jesus did it). This good wife is perhaps searching for part of her dowry. The coin may have been set in a ring or an earring, or it may have belonged to a strand of coins worn across the forehead. The coin probably had high sentimental value to her. It may have been to her like losing the stone out of an engagement ring would feel to one of us. Or, alternatively, it might have been money given to her by her husband to buy necessities for their home. Those 10 coins probably represented 10 days’ income. She may have worried that losing it would demonstrate to her husband that she could not be trusted to be a good steward of their money. Whether dowry or income, she felt she needed to locate that missing coin.

Notice the lengths she goes to in order to locate the coin: She lights a lamp to see better. She sweeps what would have been a hard-packed dirt floor thoroughly. Like the Shepherd, she searches diligently. Consider, the sheep may have been found wounded or damaged somehow, but lost or found, the value of the coin is unaffected. Some of us may have believed we were without value before Christ came into our lives. That was me before God rescued me. My step-father never told me he loved me and my mother did not like women. YIKES! But when I learned my Heavenly Father loved me, I realized it almost didn’t matter that my earthly grown-ups (parental figures) did not. Or perhaps you feared that you had done so many bad things in your life so as to lessen your value to God. I have heard folks say they won’t come to church because they are such sinners that the roof of the building would fall in if they showed up. But this lost coin parable affirms that despite having been sinners in the past, Jesus Christ still values us. The roof would not cave in! As with the sheep, the search is on, the lost is found, and the woman rejoices.

This time, Jesus identifies with the woman. He is saying, I am like this woman. I diligently search for the lost. What about you, Scribes and Pharisees? And, as one of my seminary professors (Dr. Kenneth Bailey) said, in this parable and elsewhere in Luke, Jesus elevates the worth of women.

Now we come to the famous Parable of the Lost, or Prodigal Son. Let’s focus first on the Father’s Behaviors: Very unexpectedly (for the Ancient Near East), he offers grace to His greedy younger son. He doesn’t seem to take offense. Despite any pain over his son’s attitudes, he grants the request. He gives his son the freedom to leave town with his “inheritance check.” It’s helpful to know that this would diminish what the father and the elder son have left to live on. It’s also helpful to know that once word of this got around the village, the villagers would have wanted the son’s head (vigilante justice)! Remember the outcry against Queen Vasti, in the book of Esther? She refused to come when the King summoned her to his banquet. Even though the banqueters were all men, and even though they were probably all drunk and unpredictable after days of feasting and drinking, Vasti’s refusal shamed the king before his subjects. The other nobles pressured the King to “de-queen” her because they feared her “disrespect” would be a bad example to other married women in the empire. If they had known, the villagers may have feared a similar contagion effect. Already we notice this Father is more magnanimous than anyone then would have expected a Father to be. Jesus’ listeners would no doubt have been shocked.

Now let’s consider the Son’s Behaviors: He runs through his father’s money. He’s reduced to starvation. In desperation, he develops a plan return home and throw himself on his dad’s mercy.

Let’s shift back again to the Father’s Response: He watches for his son! He knows his son and probably suspects he’ll have spent it all. He wants to see him again, but also to reach the young man before the villagers get ahold of him. He runs to meet him! This would have totally shocked the Pharisees. Ancient Near Eastern patriarchs did not run! They moved at a slow and stately pace as befit their status. In addition, any exposure of the Father’s legs while running would have been considered shameful. The father deliberately risks ridicule and humiliation to reach his son.

When he reaches his lost son, he embraces and kisses him. Village observers would have expected the son to fall on his face and kiss his father’s feet.

But sonny-boy barely starts his apology when the father offers, “a costly demonstration of his unexpected love” (Do you hear a whisper, an intimation of the Cross?) Through His saving, redeeming love, the Father receives his lost son (us) back into the family. He honors him with the best robe, signifying cleansing and honor; he provides him a signet ring, indicating trust; he sees to covering his bare feet with shoes, a symbol of self-respect. Then he throws a celebratory party! The Father is delighted that his son has returned home. But, as Dr. Bailey taught, “The banquet is a celebration of joy in honor of the Father and his life-saving, costly love. (See Finding the Lost, by Kenneth E. Bailey, Condordia Press, 1992).

What then is Jesus saying, through these three parables of lost things, to His audience of Pharisees and to us? He is saying, (1.) “I hang out with sinners because I came to seek and to save the lost.” (2.) He says to the Scribes and the Pharisees, “So should you.” (3.) To us, “Even though we may believe God has given up on us He hasn’t. He simply waits for us to come to our senses, and realize we need Him.”

He is also telling us that our God is a loving and forgiving parent. His love for us is extravagant, generous, without compare. And He stands ready to forgive us and draw us to Himself if we but ask. May we always appreciate His life-saving, parental love!

©2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

Resisting Temptation

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 6, 2022

Scriptures: Deut 26:1-11; Ps 91:1-16; Ro 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13

Oscar Wilde, the Irish poet and playwright once wrote, “I can resist everything but temptation.” The story is told of a pastor who stayed in a moderately-priced Bed and Breakfast (B&B). He noticed at breakfast that the table was set with a lovely pewter salt and pepper set and with a matching pewter cream pitcher. He coveted the beautiful items before him and thought to himself how easily he could hide them away in his suitcase. He told himself the inn would hardly miss them. Then he thought some more and decided–if his theft became known–that it would…

1.) Definitely damage his Christian example to the inn-keeper,

2.) Scandalize his congregation,

3.) Form a terrible example to his children,

4.) And embarrass his wife and himself.

So he talked himself out of pilfering the items. Later, on a Sunday like today, when the Gospel centered on Jesus’ temptations, he told of his own temptation at the B&B. He wanted his congregation to know that we all–even including their pastor–could be tempted, but that the Christ-like response was to turn away from the seductions of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

A week later, a package arrived addressed to him. It contained that very set of dining accessories that he had been tempted to steal. Some kind soul in his congregation wanted him to have the pewter items he had loved at the inn, purchased them from the BNB, and sent them to him. The next Sunday he mentioned how grateful he was that someone had sent him the items from the BNB…and then went on to state that he had recently seen a new Lexus he loved (as recorded by Chuck Swindoll in The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.560).

Temptations are all around us, aren’t they? Are we like Oscar Wilde, unable to resist any? I hope not…and yet some temptations are very difficult to overcome.

Last year, on the First Sunday of Lent, I focused on how Jesus’ temptations were aimed by Satan at Jesus physically (turn stones into bread), psychologically (impress the crowd by jumping from a great height and being saved by angels), and spiritually (worship the devil, not God)—and that the evil one targets us in these ways also. This year, I want to focus on what Scripture tells us about how to overcome temptations:

1. Our Old Testament lesson, from Deuteronomy 26:1-11, focuses on our need to express our gratitude to God. In this passage, Moses was reminding the Israelites to offer to God always the first and finest of their harvest. This was a tangible means of expressing to the Lord their gratitude for all He had done for them:

a. He had fashioned them into a nation — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not Israelites (until God changed Jacob’s name to Israel). They were wandering Arameans (Syrians). 90 + Joseph, his wife and their 2 sons, or 94 of them sojourned in Egypt, where the Egyptians referred to them as He-bar-ew. 400 years later, they exited that country numbering 2 million Israelites.

b. He had led them out of slavery through Moses’ leadership at God’s direction.

c. He had tested and strengthened them during their wilderness wanderings.

d. And He had brought them, after 40 years, into (v.9)…a land flowing with milk and honey. As a kid, I took this literally and envisioned rapid rivers of milk and sluggish rivers of honey all over the Canaanite landscape. This phrase is metaphorical, however, meaning a peaceful, prosperous land. Cows don’t produce milk in chaotic conditions. Bees don’t settle in and manufacture honey when agitated. God was leading them to a new (to them), peaceful land where they could unpack their belongings and set down roots.

If they couldn’t think of anything to thank God for, Moses was suggesting they express gratitude to God for rescue and deliverance; for gracious provision (manna from heaven and water from rock); for His guidance and protection; for His love for them as individuals and as His chosen people.

Gratitude is a very fine place to hang our hats. To be grateful forces us to remember when God has met us and cared for us. Gratitude is also a good means of overcoming temptation. Temptation always focuses on what we do not have at the moment and creates an appetite for it. Gratitude reminds us to be content with what we have—you could say it helps settle cravings, whether physical, psychological, or spiritual.

2. Psalm 91 lays out for us beautifully how extensive is God’s protection of us. J. Vernon McGee talks about how many servicemen he knew in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam who would meditate upon and pray verses from this psalm daily—and then lived to tell their story.

Verse 3 asserts Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare [this can be any kind of trap], and from the deadly pestilence [Covid 19, poisonous gases, and other biological warfare]. Verse 5 declares You will not fear the terror of night [bombing, shelling, saboteurs] nor the arrow that flies by day [bullets or missiles]. Verse 13 proclaims You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent [any fierce enemy known for its strength/lethality]. How reassuring, how comforting to quote to self or comrades the following:

Verse 4 He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. This brings to mind how some bird mothers will cover their chicks as fire sweeps over them. The mother sacrifices her life to keep her babies alive.

Verse 7 promises ten thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. Why? The answer if found in verse 14 “Because He loves me,” says the Lord, ‘I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name.’ Here are 2 keys to God’s protection: Loving God, and having respect and reverence for, faith in His name. We can pray these same verses for the Ukrainians currently fighting to save their country. On a less drastic front, we can pray these same verses asking God to protect us from our many temptations.

3. In Romans 10:8-13, Paul is telling us that Jesus’ resurrection is at the very heart of the Gospel. He points out how easy it is to be saved: Verses 9-10 avow …if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. It’s not a matter of impressing God with your goodness or your ability to keep the rules. It’s not even a matter of regular church attendance or of receiving the sacraments—though both are very helpful to us. The thief on the Cross may never have attended Synagogue, nor was her probably baptized, yet Jesus told him his belief in Christ would place him in paradise that day. It’s a matter only of saying yes to Jesus: Believing He was resurrected from the dead, and inviting Him into your heart. And, if we aren’t already convinced, Paul reminds us (v.13) …for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. As I have said here before many times, God has made it easy. It is only skeptical people who want to make it more difficult than it is.

4. Jesus’ temptation by Satan is covered in 3 of the 4 Gospels– Matthew, Mark, and Luke—who were all concerned with demonstrating Jesus’ humanity. Each gospel assures us that Jesus was tempted as we are. We are only told of 3 major temptations, but we can be confident that our Lord was constantly bombarded by the evil one for 40 days–and did not succumb.

He is our model for overcoming temptation. First, He was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Remember, He was filled with the Holy Spirit at His baptism just prior to His 40 days in the desert. We too are empowered by the Spirit. We can’t often overcome temptation just by our own will-power. When I worked as a psychologist at a residential treatment center for alcohol and drug addiction, I often told the clients that if will power were sufficient to free them, they would already be free. For many people, will-power is not enough. We need the power of God to break free. The right thing to do is often the difficult thing to do…we need God’s help to do the right thing. Who did the pastor in my opening story think reminded him of the consequences of his proposed theft? That wasn’t just his own thinking. That was the Holy Spirit bringing to his mind all of the negative consequences of his proposed theft.

Second, Jesus was committed to following the Father’s will. This is a tough one for many of us. To discover God’s will for us, we need to read the Bible often to learn God’s general will for us; and then pray and listen to learn God’s will for us in a specific situation. The Rev. Mike Flynn, a famous American faith healer, says he envisions Jesus on His heavenly throne, looks to His face, asks if he should take a certain action, and looks to see if Jesus nods “yes” or shakes His head, “no.” Then he does what he believes the Lord has told him.

Third, Jesus quoted Scripture to Satan! Jesus countered every test with a verse from Scripture. Satan can cause us—like Eve in the garden when he asked, “Did God really say…?”—to mistrust God if we do not know His Word well. The Bible teaches us to know God’s character, and to recognize His Word, so that if someone tells us something is OK to do, we can extrapolate correctly what God would want us to do or to avoid. A lot of contemporary fictional works (novels, TV shows, and movies) promote sex outside of marriage as normative and right—just as they excuse abortion and encourage curses that abuse God’s name. These are sins. But we know that while God loves the sinner, He still is the final word on what constitutes sin, and He wants us to avoid these actions/behaviors/attitudes.

I remember when I first moved to assist at a church in New Orleans in 2003. The church clerical staff was reading Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, and thought it was true. I was appalled! Brown was raised a Christian, but totally misrepresents the truth of Christ in his novel. Skillfully weaving in fact with fiction, the author claims in his novel that the Catholic Church has for centuries tried to cover up the “fact” that Jesus bore a child with Mary Magdalene. Lord have mercy! Jesus Christ was sinless! He would never had had sex with a disciple only to abandon her and the child—afterall, he made provisions for His widowed mother from the Cross. My boss and I spent time with the staff to point out to them the errors and heresy in the novel. It became clear to me then that it is difficult to discern truth from error if you don’t know Scripture.

So how might we overcome temptation? We can…

1. Express our gratitude to God for all He has done for us.

This involves being mindful of and thankful for our many blessings. Each day recently, I awake, turn on the news, and praise God that the Ukrainians have held out against a massive aggressor for another day. Pray that these brave Ukrainians might have water, heat, food, electricity, medicine, and safety—all things we take for granted.

2. Pray for the Ukrainians to be protected and pray that God would continue to protect us from the assaults of our enemies, both human and demonic.

3. Rest in the knowledge that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

We can also look to Jesus’ example: He was empowered by the Holy Spirit. He was obedient to God’s will. And He responded to Satan’s temptations by quoting Scripture. As we work on our spiritual inventory this Lent, let’s put into practice the strategies our God has given us to overcome temptation. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory [over temptations] through our Lord Jesus Christ!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Trouble With Forgiveness

Pastor Sherry’s message for 2/20/22

Scriptures: Gen 45:3-15; Ps 37:1-11, 39-40; Lk 6:27-38

Corrie ten Boom was a Holocaust survivor, a Christian, and a member of the Dutch underground resistance during WWII. Scott Sauls (in his book, A Gentle Answer, Thomas Nelson, 2020, pp.19-20) tells the following story to demonstrate the trouble with forgiveness:

“After the defeat of Hitler’s Nazi regime in World War II, Corrie returned to Germany to declare the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. One evening, after giving her message, she was approached by a man who identified himself as a former Nazi guard from the concentration camp at Ravensbruck, where she had been held and where her sister, Betsie, had died.

“When Corrie saw the man’s face, she recognized him as one of the most cruel and vindictive guards from the camp. He reached out his hand and said to her, “A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea! You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk. I was a guard there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?” About this encounter, Corrie writes:

‘I stood there—I whose sins had again and again been forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place. Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I ever had to do . . . I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. . . . But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently.’

“As she reached out her hand to the former guard, Corrie says that something incredible took place. She continues: ‘The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’ . . . I had never known love so intensely, as I did then. But even then, I realized it was not my love . . . It was the power of the Holy Spirit.’”

The trouble with forgiveness is that it is easy to talk about but difficult to do. It feels at the time like the emotional equivalent of having your toe-mails curled backwards.

Remember the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons by Bill Watterson? In one of them, Calvin—about 6YO–is sharing his guilt with his tiger friend, Hobbes. He admits he feels bad for calling someone named Susie names and for hurting her feelings. He says he is sorry. (Good for him!) Hobbes, a wise toy tiger, suggests Calvin apologize to Susie. After thinking it through for a moment, Calvin replies, “I keep hoping there’s a less obvious solution.” Isn’t that just the truth for most of us? We know that apologizing or asking for forgiveness is going to require that we humble ourselves and admit our fault. We also suspect that this action will be emotionally painful for us.

Jesus gives us His take on forgiveness in this famous portion of the Gospel of Luke (6:27-38). It is a continuation of the Sermon on the Plain. Jesus directs us to (v.27)love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. YIKES! This is such a tall order! Foundational to the ability to do as He directs is a willingness to forgive. Corrie ten Boom found it very difficult to extend a hand of forgiveness to the former Ravensbruck guard.

She knew she had just talked about it publically, and hated to be seen as a hypocrite—if she could not. And she wisely asked Jesus to help her. Such forgiveness is beyond our human abilities. It requires the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Additionally, in verse 29, Jesus commands us to famously “turn the other cheek.” Rev. Dr. J. Vernon McGee tells the story of an Irish prize fighter who was converted and became an itinerent pastor. “He happened to be in a new town setting up his evangelistic tent when a couple of tough thugs noticed what he was doing. Knowing nothing of his background, they made a few insulting remarks. The Irishman merely turned and looked at them. Pressing his luck, one of the bullies took a swing and struck a glancing blow on one side of the ex-boxer’s face. The former boxer shook it off and said nothing as he stuck out his jaw. The bully took another glancing blow on the other side. At that point the preacher swiftly took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and announced, “The Lord gave me no further instructions,” Whop! ( As related by J. Vernon McGee in Charles Swindoll’s Tale of a Tardy Oxcart, 1998, p 214.)

Clearly this is a joke as Jesus told Peter the trouble with forgiveness is that we are to forgive the same person not 7 but 77 times (Matthew 18:22). Jesus sums it up by charging us to (v.31)Do to others as you would have them do to you. We are not to seek revenge or repay evil with evil. Instead, we are called to treat everyone– even enemies– with love and mercy.

Furthermore, He exhorts us (vv.37-38)Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For, with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

The story is told of the famous artist, Leonardo Da Vinci. He was painting “The Last Supper,” (in oils on a plaster wall in a convent in Milan, Italy) and had fashioned the face of Judas at the table to resemble one of his greatest detractors. Then, when he approached painting the face of Christ, he found he could not get it right. He tried and tried unsuccessfully, until he repented of how he had depicted the Judas figure. As soon as he painted over his enemy’s likeness with one more anonymous, he found he could then depict Jesus’ face.

Notice how God withheld blessing Da Vinci’s great work until the artist let go of avenging himself. The trouble with un-forgiveness is that it blocks our ability to receive God’s blessings. The “Cancel Culture” today tells us it is OK and even expected of us to get revenge. But according to Christ, we are blessed in the measure to which we bless others.

Jesus’ admonitions to forgive, not judge, and not condemn are so beautifully lived out by Old Testament Joseph (Genesis 45:3-15). Joseph is probably the most Christ-like person described in the Old Testament. Recall that his 10 brothers from another mother had sold him into slavery (he was about 17). They fully expected him to die in Egypt, as slaves were not treated well. They compounded their sin by lying to their father about Joseph’s supposed death, and causing him great grief. His grief was so profound and so agonizing that his brother Judah ended up leaving the family camp to live among Canaanites for a time.

But because of Joseph’s supernatural skill as a “seer,” he was rescued from prison by Pharaoh to interpret (see the meaning of) his ominous and perplexing dreams (by this point Joseph was 30YO). Previously, he had been able to see into the motives of his brothers, which got him sold into slavery. He had also correctly read the motives of Potipher’s wife, but received a prison sentence anyway. And, finally, his ability to see into the future of his prison roommate’s life had brought him to the attention of Pharaoh.

Now, with his brothers gathered around him in all his splendor (aged 39, having lived in Egypt for 22 years), as Vizier of Egypt, he sees as well as discerns and reveals God’s purposes in what his brothers had done to him. Prior to this passage, he has tested his felonious brothers twice to see if their character has changed at all in the 22 years since he last saw them.

It appears they have come to regret their past actions toward him, as well as the inconsolable grief they have caused their father, Jacob.

So, as per Peterson’s The Message, he tells his kin–>I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt. But don’t feel badly, don’t blame yourselves for selling me. God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives. There has been a famine in the land now for two years; the famine will continue for five more years—neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me on ahead to pave the way and make sure there was a remnant in the land, to save your lives in an amazing act of deliverance. So you see, it wasn’t you who sent me here but God. He set me in place as a father to Pharaoh, put me in charge of his personal affairs, and made me ruler of all Egypt.

The trouble with forgiveness is that it is difficult for us to offer. Our sinful human nature wants us to pursue revenge. But God will bless our efforts to forgive others. Joseph’s forgiveness results in a Jew, rising to the #2 power position in all of Egypt. It fulfills the prophetic dreams he had had as a young man. In addition, God uses Joseph to save his Father, all 11 of his brothers, and his extended family (approximately 90 people in all). He also saved unnumbered thousands of Egyptians and other Gentiles.

Joseph also demonstates the truth of Psalm 37, which is “Do not fret.” No matter what our circumstances, we do not need to worry.

Verse 3 tells us to Trust in the Lord and do good. Verse 4 encourages us to delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. It took 22 years, but Joseph—despite being sold into slavery and falsely accused of rape– does not appear to have lost his trust in God.

He did not get angry with God, he forgave his brothers, and God delivered him.

I think that examples like that of Old Testament Joseph and of Corrie ten Boom validate for us that it is possible for us to forgive others and to extend love to our enemies. Even though difficult for us, we can do it with God’s help.

We want to forgive because…

1. Christ commands it of us.

2. Christ demonstrated it to us, by forgiving us through His saving death on the Cross.

Stuart Strachan Jr. relates a tale written by Ernest Hemingway in this way: “The story revolves around a father and his teenage son Paco, set in Spain. Paco was an extremely common name in the Spain of that time. With desires to become a matador and to escape his father’s control, Paco runs away to the capital (from which the title is derived) of Spain, Madrid.

His father, desperate to reconcile with his son, follows him to Madrid and puts an ad in a local newspaper with a simple phrase: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the Madrid newspaper office tomorrow at noon. All is forgiven. I love you.” Hemingway then writes, “the next day at noon in front of the newspaper office there were 800 “Pacos” all seeking forgiveness.” The world is full of people in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. The model for such forgiveness is most profoundly found in Jesus Christ.”

3. And because God gives back to us as good as we give.

This week, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to bring to our minds those people we need to forgive. Then let us go before the throne of God and offer up our desire, our intent to forgive them. God can work with the fact that we may only want to want to forgive. Pray for those persons daily for 30 days and watch and see what our Lord does to them and to us.

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams