The Difficulty with Rejoicing

Pastor Sherry’s message for 5/15/2022

Scriptures: Acts 11:1-18; Ps 148; Rev. 21:1-8; Jn 13:31-35

In my Wednesday afternoon Bible Study this week, we focused on Jesus’ call to us to rejoice. In the Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10), the woman featured in the story is filled with joy when she locates her lost coin (1 in a set of 10). She is so excited when she finds it that she calls in her friends to celebrate the find with her. Jesus makes the point that heaven celebrates/rejoices just so when even one sinner repents.

From there, we discussed a difficulty with rejoicing with another, which is that we tend to be jealous of the cause of their joy. Isn’t it true that if friends are celebrating their 40th or 50th wedding anniversary, we are happy for them but also sad that we haven’t made it that far? Isn’t it also true that we rejoice for the woman who finds herself pregnant but are envious and grieved if we are experiencing infertility, or have had our last child–due to the financial burden–even though wishing for more? How about a lottery winner? Or someone who gets their dream job, or our dream job instead of us? Or a full ride scholarship to college? My great-niece just got such a scholarship even though her parents could well afford to pay her way. We might be happy for them at first, but often then move on to entertaining wishes that those good things happened to us instead of them. Unlike the lady in the parable, we may even hesitate to call in our friends to rejoice with us because we fear their jealousy. This may be human nature, but I believe Jesus calls us to put aside our envy—to overcome our natural tendencies–and truly celebrate with those who experience blessings.

Several of our readings today address this issue:

A. Our Acts 11:1-18 passage shows us what can happen when we don’t rejoice with the good fortune of others. Remember that we recently read how Peter baptized Cornelius and his household, all Gentiles? Prior to this, God had dramatically demonstrated to him—3 times—that nothing God creates, neither food, animals, nor non-Jews is unclean. He gets that God doesn’t play favorites, even though the Jews, as His Chosen People, believed otherwise. Peter is rightly convinced that God called him to baptize Gentiles into “the Way,” the enfant Christian Church. Now he is back in Jerusalem, however, and has to explain himself, and his actions, to the Jewish-Christian leaders back in the city. A group of new Christians, called the Judaizers, believed one must become a Jew before converting to Christianity. Remember, the movement was new. They were kind of making up the rules as time went on and occasions arose. This group wanted new believers to be circumcised, eat kosher, and go to Hebrew School prior to accepting Christ. Isn’t that just like human nature? You can almost hear people say, “Well, we had to do it that way. Why shouldn’t they?” Since we had to do that so should they. Rather than rejoice that God was calling more folks into the enfant church, they wanted to legislate a process. But God, the Holy Spirit, had a better idea.

Peter makes the very powerful and convincing point to them that the Holy Spirit (1) had told Cornelius where Peter was and to send for him; (2) then led Peter to Cornelius’ home; (3) and fell upon Cornelius and his friends, such that they were praying and speaking in tongues when Peter arrived. (4) So, since they were already baptized in the Holy Spirit, Peter did not believe he could deny them baptism with water.

Walter B. Knight, a Christian collector of illustrations for sermons and speeches, has written, Joy is the flag that flies over the castle of our hearts, announcing that the king is in residence today. (As submitted by Chuck Swindoll in his book, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.322). The proper response to anyone coming to Christ is for us to rejoice for that person. The Church in Jerusalem should have been rejoicing over the sovereign move of the Holy Spirit, instead of questioning whether Gentiles should first be Jews. Our joy for others shows that we are attuned to God rather than to our fleshly, envious natures.

B. Revelation 21:1-8 describes what eternity will look like after Christ establishes His reign on earth. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. God and His Son, Jesus, will dwell in a new Jerusalem. Those who believed in Jesus will be there, but those who distained Christ—nonbelievers and notorious sinners—will not. Scholars believe this new and Godly environment will be characterized by no sin, temptation or further testing; no sun—just God and Jesus for sources of light; no oceans; no gravity; and we will remain in the presence of God and Jesus. This will be a “Brave New World,” but one in which we will rejoice to live!

C. Our Psalm (148) is ablaze with joy, praise to God, and rejoicing!

It fairly vibrates with joy and praises to God! It begins with a call to all created things to praise God. It ends with our motivation to joyGod’s having provided “a horn.” This term is an Old Testament euphemism for the Messiah, God’s anointed. Our motivation to rejoice in God should be our gratitude for His gift of Jesus. Do we really appreciate this great gift? Does thinking of Jesus and His loving sacrifice on the cross for our sakes fill us with gratitude and joy?

D. Finally, our Gospel (John 13:31-35) contains Jesus’ “new command” (v.34): Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. It’s actually an old command, dating back to the 3rd book of the Bible (and included in the Jewish Torah or Law), Leviticus 19:18 Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. The Father tacks on I am the Lord so we realize Moses wrote it down, but God originated and stated the command. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New. His expectations of us are the same throughout Scripture: We’re to love Him and to love others. God is love and He expects us to Love. Notice Jesus is not calling us to serve in this verse. Neither is He calling us to witness—though both are commendable.

His highest priority is for us to demonstrate love.

Think for a moment about the connection between love and joy. When we learn we are loved, we experience great joy. I remember when I fell in love and learned he loved me in return, I wafted about in a natural high for days. Everything was beautiful and all people were wonderful. I really looked at life through rose-colored glasses. In a word, I was filled with joy! Similarly, Bruce Larson (a prolific Christian author) has said, Grimness is not a Christian virtue. There are no sad saints. If God really is the center of one’s life and being, joy is inevitable. If we have no joy, we have missed the heart of the Good News and our bodies as much as our souls will suffer the consequences. (From his book, There’s a Lot More to Health Than Not Being Sick, and submitted by Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.322).

This week, let’s celebrate God’s blessings in our lives, daily. Make it a habit to think of 3 good things that have happened to you in a given day. We may have to initially ask God to give us eyes to see. Our brains are naturally wired to help us see danger and what is wrong in a situation. We therefore have to retrain our brains to intentionally look for things for which to be thankful. Experience teaches that we can find them if we look carefully.

Then let’s rejoice! Let’s celebrate the goodness of our God.

Finally, let’s discipline ourselves to rein in our envy and jealousy. We need to recognize it for what it is. Next we need to renounce it. The behavior is human but not godly. Then, knowing that God loves you and desires to bless you too, choose to replace envy with rejoicing. Consider Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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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

God is Good!

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 16, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why not?’ I queried.

“Because I love her,” came the reply.

“And why do you love her?” I pressed.

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

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

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Claimed!

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 9, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 43:1-7; Ps 29; Acts 8:14-17; Lk 3:15-22

I told this story a few years back, but I believe it bears retelling: A young woman was applying to college. She was uncomfortable with the question on the admission form, Are you a leader? She figured colleges were looking for leaders, but she was also pretty clear that she wasn’t one. She filled the form in honestly by answering the question with a “No.” As a result, she expected to be rejected. What a surprise when she got back this response: Dear Applicant, a careful review of this year’s application forms reveals that we will be accepting 1,452 new leaders. We are also accepting you because we feel it is important that these 1,452 have at least one follower.

In our Gospel today (LK 3:15-17, 21-22), John the Baptist makes it clear that he is not the leader—the Promised Messiah—but rather His devoted follower. John, Jesus‘ cousin, is baptizing Israelites in the Jordan. Now we know that baptism is a sacrament, an outward, visible sign of an important, inward, spiritual truth. By being dunked (or sprinkled like we do), the people were indicating their intention to die to their sins. Going under the water indicated symbolically their decision to turn away from or die to their sins. Coming up out of the water symbolized their decision to commit their lives to God. In other words, John was preaching a revival and encouraging everyone who heard him to be baptized—both as a sign of their repentance (sorrow for sin) and of their desire to live a changed life.

Apparently, he preaches so effectively and so convincingly that the crowd began to wonder aloud if he could be the coming Messiah. He heard their murmurings and replied, “No, no no…not me! I’m just the warm-up act. I’m baptizing you with water…but Someone mightier is coming after me Who…” (according to Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message)…will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He is going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper perspective before God; everything false He’ll put out with the trash to be burned. John the Baptist is saying, “I’m not the Messiah, but only the prelude to what Jesus will accomplish in the lives of those willing to believe in Him.”

The difference between Jesus’ and John the Baptist’s baptisms is this: John’s baptism was about jettisoning the old life. In the movie, O Brother, where art thou?, the fugitive convict, Delmar, gets baptized in a river. Returning to his other 2 convict buddies, he is filled with joy! He exclaims, “I have been redeemed. The preacher said so. All my sins and wrongdoings has been wiped away, including robbing that Piggly-Wiggly.” Another convict pipes up, “Uh, Delmar, I thought you said you was innocent of those charges.” Delmar replies, “Well, I lied, but I been forgiven of that too.”

As far as we know, Jesus never baptized anyone with water. Instead, He imparted to them the Holy Spirit. He gave them/us the supernatural power to live a new life. Again, John’s baptism jettisoned the old life; Jesus’ baptism in the Holy Spirit empowers us to live a new one–a life in which we love and serve God and others.

Now Luke is not telling this story chronologically, because after he tells us that King Herod had John the Baptist arrested, Jesus comes on the scene to be baptized. Regardless of the order of events, Jesus was without sin, so what did He have to die to in baptism? What old life was He getting rid of? Matthew’s Gospel tells us He submitted to John’s water baptism to fulfill all righteousness (3:15); that is, to identify with our sinful natures; and to model for all the way we should turn to God. Notice that while He was being baptized by John, the rest of the Trinity showed up as well: The Holy Spirit took on the form of the white dove and hovered over His head, indicating that Jesus was now empowered for ministry. Some apocryphal gospels (not considered accurate enough to have been included in the “canon” of Scripture) describe Jesus healing birds and transforming things into butterflies as a child. This cannot be as He had not yet been baptized in the Spirit. When the dove descended upon Him, the God-man Jesus was then plugged into His supernatural power source. Additionally, the Father’s voice (which we have been told in Ps 29 is exceedingly powerful) pronounced: You are my Son whom I love; with You I am well pleased!

Wow, just before He begins His ministry of saving humankind, Jesus heard a powerful affirmation from His Father! He receives this wonderful blessing, His Father’s statement that He was not just pleased with Him, but well pleased.

Wouldn’t you have loved to have heard that from your earthly father? My step-father never even told me he loved me, but my Heavenly Father has. Modern psychology tells us that it is the father in the family—not the mother–who conveys to children their self-esteem. Isn’t it true that we all need our Father’s blessing to feel confident and good about ourselves? One of my seminary professors, Rev. Dr. John Rogers, conveyed the Father’s blessing to me every time I saw him after graduating. We would occasionally see one another at a clergy conference. He would come up to me, cup my face in his large hands, and kiss me on the forehead. I believed then and still do that the Lord used him to let me know He loved and approved of me. I pray you have had someone similar to do the same in your life!

Our Acts lesson (8:14-17) describes a situation in which a deacon, Philip, has baptized new Samaritan converts with water, and the Apostles Peter and John show up to baptize them with the Holy Spirit. You may recall (from Acts 7) that a deacon, named Stephen, was stoned to death in Jerusalem, with Saul (soon to become Paul) presiding over his execution.

This begins the first persecution of the early Church, with Jews beating, imprisoning, and killing Christ-followers. Why would God allow this to happen in His enfant church? He allowed it to prompt them to leave their Holy Huddle in Jerusalem and to take the Gospel—as Jesus commanded them (Acts 1:8)–to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

So Philip, a 2nd deacon, goes to a city in Samaria. We are told, in verses 5-8, that he preached the Word, performed miracles, healed the sick, and cast out demons there—what a powerful ministry! And…there was great joy in that city! Later, the apostles Peter and John are sent to check into this “city-wide-revival.” They approved Philip’s work, then went on to baptize the people with the Holy Spirit. Why follow up water-baptism with a baptism in the Holy Spirit? Remember, John the Baptist baptized with water, representing repentance for and cleansing from sin; representing a turning away from the pre-baptism life. Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit.

In our modern service of baptism, while sprinkling water on head of the person being baptized , we baptize him/her in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Immediately after this, I make the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead (with oil that has been blessed) and say, “_______, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and claimed as Christ’s own forever.” To be baptized by the Holy Spirit is like having the dove descend upon us as happened with Jesus. It means we have been claimed and adopted, by God–through the saving work of Jesus–as His beloved daughters and sons. It also means we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to reach out to others and to minister to them in Christ’s love.

So, all of us in this congregation have been baptized by both water and by the Holy Spirit (If you doubt this, please remain after church and I will pray with you to receive the Holy Spirit). Let us remember verse 1 from Isaiah 43–Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; You are mine! We have been claimed by God, through Jesus, and are now commissioned and empowered for ministry. This new year, let’s look for opportunities to tell others about Jesus and His impact on our lives. Let’s be like the fellow in the story of a father and son who “…arrived in a small western town looking for an uncle whom they had never seen. Suddenly, the father, pointing across the square to a man who was walking away from them, exclaimed, “There goes my uncle!” His son asked, “How do you know when you have not seen him before?” “Son, I know him because he walks exactly like my father.” If we walk in the Spirit, the world should know us by our walk (Related by Lee Roberson in, The Gold Mine , 2000, Sword of the Spirit Publishers). Amen. May it be so!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Re-JOY-ce!

Pastor Sherry’s message for December 12, 2021

Scriptures: Zeph 3:14-20; Isa 12:2-6; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:7-18

Dr. Helen Roseveare, missionary to Zaire, told the following story: “A mother at our mission station died after giving birth to a premature baby. We tried to improvise an incubator to keep the infant alive, but the only hot water bottle we had was beyond repair. So we asked the children to pray for the baby and for her sister. One of the girls responded. ‘Dear God, please send a hot water bottle today. Tomorrow will be too late because by then the baby will be dead. And dear Lord, send a doll for the sister so she won’t feel so lonely.’ That afternoon a large package arrived from England. The children watched eagerly as we opened it. Much to their surprise, under some clothing was a hot water bottle! Immediately the girl who had prayed so earnestly started to dig deeper, exclaiming, ‘If God sent that, I’m sure He also sent a doll!’ And she was right! The heavenly Father knew in advance of that child’s sincere requests, and 5 months earlier He had led a ladies’ group to include both of those specific articles.” (source unknown)

Have you ever noticed that this is the way our God often answers prayer? The results appear to be instantaneous, but God had the request in mind—and answered it–even before someone asked. We have learned this often happens with the Christmas shoeboxes we so recently packed and shipped. My favorite example is of the young boy who wanted a black t-shirt and a black hat, and was overjoyed to find one in his gift box. (I would not have thought to send a black pair, but a hat and shirt that was colorful. Instead someone packed just what this child wanted and God saw to it that he was the one who received that shoe box. And isn’t it true that we who prayed are often shocked, amazed, and filled with joy when we witness how God has answered our prayers?

In discussing God’s answers to prayers, Bill Hybels, in his book, Too Busy Not To Pray (IVP, 2008, p.74), writes:

If the request is wrong, God says, “No!”

If the timing is wrong, God says, “Slow.”

If you are wrong, God says, “Grow.”

But if the request is right, the timing is right and you are right, God says, “GO!”

Hybels obviously believes God always answers our prayers; He just doesn’t always answer them in the way we desire.

Our Scripture passages, on this 3rd Sunday of Advent, all revolve around God’s response to the prayers of believers. Remember, today we lit the candle representing “Joy,” the joy the shepherds experienced when the angel choirs told them Messiah had arrived.

A. The prophet, Zephaniah (3:14-20), foretells Jesus’ 2nd Coming as a warrior God! When Christ returns, at some unknown future date, He will have the authority to set all things right! This will not be “Jesus, Meek and Mild.” Instead, He will come back to earth in all of his kingly glory. The first time He came, it was as a poor baby, born to a homeless couple. But when he comes back, it will be as the all-powerful King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Zephaniah wants his Jewish audience–and us–to know we will then have nothing to fear! Non-believers will be shaking in their boots as they face judgment; but we who love Jesus will experience great joy! In verse 17, Zephaniah predicts we will never again be afraid or anxious! How wonderful is that?! Instead, we will experience God’s delight with us. It will be as if we are infants in His arms, as He quiets us with His love, and rejoices over us with singing. When has anyone rejoiced over you with singing? Maybe your mom or dad sang lullabies over you as a child, or perhaps people sing for your birthday, but otherwise, it isn’t often than anyone sings over us. But imagine, the Great God of the Universe will do this with each of us who has asked Jesus into her or his heart.

At His 2nd Advent, our long-prayed-for and triumphant Jesus will gather us and restore us. He will eliminate evil, sorrow, and all of our burdens. I believe He will explain for us the purpose of our trials and suffering on this earth. And He will raise us up to honor and fame!

Isn’t this the ultimate prayer of all of us? Come Lord Jesus, make all things new, including us. Heal us, restore us, help us to rest in Your love and Your peace.

B. The message of Isaiah 12:2-6 is very similar. In that day, the time of Jesus’ 2nd Advent, [we will] (vv.2-3)…trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. Our response to Jesus will be great joy! We will be so overflowing with gratitude, that we’ll be saying (as per Peterson’s Bible paraphrase, The Message, p.1228), verses 5-6🡪 Give thanks to God. Call out His name. Ask Him anything! Shout to the nations, tell them what He’s done, spread the news of His great reputation! Sing praise-songs to God. He’s done it all! Let the whole earth know what He’s done! Raise the roof! Sing your hearts out, O Zion! The greatest lives among you: The Holy One of Israel.

C. Paul’s message in Philippians 4:4-7 encourages us to act as if we believe in the prophesies of Zephaniah and of Isaiah. Since we trust that Jesus will grab us up in a joyous celebration at His 2nd Coming, we can (vv.4-5) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!…The Lord is near. As we await Him, we want to put away all of our anxiety, our worry. Stated another way, Paul appears to be saying, Worry about nothing, pray about everything! That’s worth saying again: Worry about nothing, pray about everything! If you are afraid your prayer request– including parking places near the door to a store when it rains–is too little a thing to bother God about, remember that to God, every concern we have is a little thing! (not in value, but compared to His power).

Daily, we can send all of our worries to the Cross of Christ. That’s where they belong. Jesus is the only One who can redeem and transform them for us. So we present our requests to God with prayer and thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, because we know He hears us. Thanksgiving, because we know His answer will be either “No,” “Slow,” “Grow,” or “Go!”

Then because we have off-loaded our concerns to Jesus, we feel His peace come over us. It’s …the peace that passes all understanding (v.7) because it’s not dependent upon our circumstances–whether external to us, like jobs, relationships, news events, etc.–or internal circumstances, like our feelings, attitudes, health, and so on. It is dependent only upon our relationship with Jesus Christ.

D. Our Gospel lesson today, Luke 3:7-18, lands us right in the middle of John the Baptist’s sermon. He’s not a cuddly character, is he? He shoots form the hip and tells it like it is: Repent! Turn from pride, arrogance, greed, extortion, dishonesty. Ask God’s forgiveness for your sins. Be baptized with water, as an outward and visible sign of an inward spiritual truth: that we have been cleansed from our sins and have made a decision to behave differently. John the Baptist also exhorted the crowds coming to him to treat others with generosity, love, and respect. He was not Jesus, but only the forerunner to Messiah. He baptized with water. But Jesus baptized us with the Holy Spirit in His 1st Advent, and will baptize us with the fire of judgment in His 2nd.

For centuries, God the Father had had His prophets announce that Jesus was coming. John the Baptist says, Well, He’s here! Get ready! Be prepared! And, while you are at it, be ready for the Return of the King!

We can rest assured that our Lord is returning to earth to restore us and our world. We can trust that our Lord hears and responds to our prayers.

Listen to this very earnest call to prayer by a famous American leader:

Knowing that intercessory prayer is our mightiest weapon and the supreme call for all Christians today, I pleadingly urge our people everywhere to pray. Believing that prayer is the greatest contribution that our people can make in this critical hour, I humbly urge that we take time to pray–to really pray. Let there be prayer at sunup, at noonday, at sundown, at midnight–all through the day. Let us all pray for our children, our youth, our aged, our pastors, our homes. Let us pray for our churches. Let us pray for ourselves, that we may not lose the word ‘concern’ out of our Christian vocabulary. Let us pray for our nation. Let us pray for those who have never known Jesus Christ and redeeming love, for moral forces everywhere, for our national leaders. Let prayer be our passion. Let prayer be our practice. (Robert E. Lee).,

As we pray, we want to do so with the confidence of a long-ago professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Harry Ironside. In its early days, the school needed $10,000 to remain open. During an emergency prayer meeting, Ironside prayed, “Lord, you own the cattle on a thousand hills. Please sell some of those cattle to help us meet this need.” Shortly after the prayer meeting, a check for $10,000 arrived at the school, sent days earlier by a friend who had no idea of the urgent need or of Ironside’s prayer. The man simply said the money came from the sale of some of his cattle!

I love stories like this! They deepen our faith and our trust in our Lord! We can be confident that, as believers in Jesus, we can await His 2nd Coming with re-joy-cing!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Keys to Peace and Joy

Pastor Sherry’s Message for October 11, 2020

Scriptures: Ex 32:1-14; Ps 106: 19-23; Phil 4:1-19; Matt 22:1-14

I just read an article by Judith Graham (in the Epoch Times Newspaper) titled, “Seniors are having Second Thoughts about Where to Live.” Generally speaking, older Americans have desired to remain in their own homes until health issues (physical & cognitive) have made it necessary to (1) downsize to smaller retirement homes;(2)or move in with adult children;(3)or move to nursing homes or assisted living facilities.  But given that some 70,000 residents and staff have died in nursing and assisted living facilities by mid-August of this year, due to the pandemic—and many others have suffered emotionally from being isolated from others—numbers of retirement aged-Americans are rethinking where to spend their “twilight years.”  Some are choosing to build homes or set up mobile homes closer to family members. Others, who have found small city apartments too lonely and confining during the quarantine, are now choosing to move to multigenerational “cohousing communities” where neighbors share dining and recreational facilities.  One of my former professors at FSU built a home in such a community in Tallahassee, Florida.  Each family had a separate home, but they all partook of meals together and they all shared a common recreational park.  Still others have decided to build bigger homes, on the premise that if they are again stuck in a lockdown, they will at least have more space (and can share their shelter with friends).

The folks Ms. Graham interviewed seemed to think the keys to peace and joy are picking a place to live that allows us independence while also providing community.  These concerns are an unexpected legacy of the Covid-19 virus among older Americans.  The writer does not distinguish between those older Americans who have a vital Christian faith and those who do not.  I think if she had, her conclusions might have been different.

No matter what our age, the Apostle Paul has some  excellent ideas for how to live out our lives—not with worry—but with peace and joy.  In Philippians 4, Paul gives us 6 ideas for how to live a joyful, peace-filled life:

  • V.1–Rather than worry about an unknown future—which could change in a New York minute–let’s set our minds on heavenly things & stand firm in the LORD.

This includes setting aside our quarrels with others. As he did with Euodia and Syntyche, Paul would have us figure out a way to forgive insults or slights from others.  He would want us to grant grace and forgiveness to others as Jesus has to us.  These are ways to keep our minds on heavenly things and to stand firm in the teachings of Jesus Christ.

  • V.–We are to rejoice!  i.e., to celebrate!

Paul didn’t have a bold feature or capital letters, exclamation points, or thumbs up “emogies” on his computer of the day.  The way he emphasized something was to repeat it.  Our joy comes from our relationship with Jesus. We need to celebrate this.  One good way to do so is to daily think of three things you can be or are grateful for and to thank God for these.  This practice will help you feel better.  When we think of what we are grateful for, we end up smiling.  Additionally, this practice will begin to retrain your brain to focus on what is positive rather than the negative.  Psychology and medical science tell us our brain’s default is to think negatively.  We tend to scan the environment for threats because attending the negative may keep us safe.  However, focusing on the negative does not lead us into peace and joy.  This practice will help you better note and remember the good things that God is doing in your life.  If those Israelites from our Old Testament lesson today had daily repeated 3 miracles God had done for them since leaving Egypt—the 10 plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, God’s daily provision of food and frequent provision of water, not to mention destroying the army of Egyptian chariots hot on their trail—they might not have fallen so quickly (40 days) into idolatry (Ex 32:1-14; Ps 106:19-23).  What were they thinking?!  Worshipping a golden calf, fashioned after a beast that eats grass on all fours.  They formed this idol and then worshipped it.  How foolish!  They worshipped a creature when they had had intimate contact with the Great Creator!  YIKES!

  •  V.6–Rather than be anxious (or rebellious), we should pray.

Those Israelites could have prayed for Moses’ safety and his quick return to them.  Instead, they abandoned their faith in God and took matters into their own hands.  The Lord wants us to bring every concern we have to Him.  No request is too small.  As Dr. J. Vernon McGee says, “If it matters to us, it matters to God.”

We want to follow up our appeals with thanksgiving.  Now we are not assuming God will do what we ask every time, so we are not thanking Him in advance for complying with our wishes.  No, this would make us God instead of Him.  Instead, we realize that sometimes God agrees with us and says “yes.”  Other times, His answer is “not yet” or even “no.”  So we are instead expressing appreciation that He always hears us and pays attention to us.

  • V.7–When we pray and leave our worries to God, His peace which transcends all understanding will descend upon us.

In the place of stress, we will feel His shalom peace.  Shalom meant more to the ancient Hebrews than a wish for peace, but instead conveyed total well-being, in mind, body, and spirit.  This deep shalom peace depends on our relationship with Jesus, not on our current circumstances.

(5)  V.8–Again, we want to focus our thoughts on the positive: …whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about these things.

Our news media is likely to emphasize whatever is scary, depressing, unexpected, or horrifying. This tends to lead us to believe their reports accurately reflect the national state of affairs—that things are more awful than they are good.  We have to remember, however, that the true, the good, the noble, the right, the pure, the lovely, and the admirable are not considered newsworthy.  So, unless we listen to a compassionate newscaster or commentator with an ear to peoples’ acts of kindness, we do not often hear of these things.    

If we are to live out lives that demonstrate peace and joy, we have to discipline ourselves to look for and celebrate the good!  Paul saw the truth of this long ago.  Secular Psychology has just recognized this truth in the past 20 years.  Modeling this very concept, Paul commends the Philippian

Church for sending him money.  He writes this letter to them from jail in Ephesus.  In those days, a prisoner—not the prison—was responsible for providing his/her own food and drink.  Without support from friends or family outside, any prisoner was out of luck.  Now God had been sustaining Paul in ways he did not report; but, even though he never wrote asking them for support, he still greatly appreciated the money they had sent him via Epaphroditus.  In the final words of his letter, he thanks them for their kindness to him.  Paul knew and was modeling the fact that expressing thanks blesses those whose generosity has already blessed him.

  • Finally, he blesses them (v.19)And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. 

Paul exhibits faith and trust in God’s loving care for the Philippians.  Knowing God is able to do so, Paul prays that God will provide for them as they have for him.

Jesus offers us a 7th key in His parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14).  Special guests had been invited to the King’s Son’s wedding banquet, but they (the Jewish religious leadership) made their excuses and did not come.  These excuses were very weak.  By refusing to attend, they expressed disinterest and lack of respect.  As we saw last week, the King is enraged and punishes them by destroying them and their city—again a prophesy of the obliteration of Jerusalem in 70AD by the Romans.

Then the King dispatches His servants to bring in those the original guests would have considered undesirables (a “basket of deplorables”). He supplies wedding clothes and is angry when a guest does not come dressed appropriately.  This is not a matter of fashion; rather, it reflects God’s concern for righteousness—having a mind and a heart set on Christ; being grateful to God; trusting in Him; and praying to Him.  Without our wedding garment of Christ’s righteousness, we will be tossed out of the wedding banquet.  This is the 3rd parable of judgment on the Pharisees, elders, and Scribes of Jesus’ time, preached by Jesus two days before His arrest.  All of them—and all of us–are invited to God’s heavenly banquet, but not all will be allowed to participate.  Those who are rebellious (as the Israelites in today’s Exodus passage, and the short-sighted religious leaders in Jesus’ time) and reject Jesus will be excluded.

God has given us, in His Scriptures, a pathway or the keys to a life of peace and joy.  As we go about our daily lives this week, let’s be mindful of…

  1. Keeping a heaven-mindset, standing firm in the Lord;
  2. Rejoicing!  Celebrating our relationship with God;
  3. Praying, the small and the big things, turning them all over to Jesus.  Let’s leave our concerns in His care, resisting the impulse to worry, while also being grateful to God for His many blessings and for attending us.
  4. Seeking God’s peace and His continued blessing.
  5. Remembering, with gratitude, that we are clothed in Jesus’ righteousness.

Let’s also remember this is not our home.   Our final retirement home is in Heaven and our invitation to the banquet comes at a great price, the precious blood of Jesus Christ!

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams