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

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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

Repent or Perish!

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 20, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 55:1-9; Ps 63:1-8; 1 Cor 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Normally, I like to begin my sermons with a story, or a real life application of our Scripture passages. But on this 3rd Sunday of Lent, I want to review: Remember, our focus has been on using the 40 days of Lent as a time for “spiritual house-cleaning”–a time to consider and confess our sins; a time to renew and strengthen our relationship with God. Two weeks ago, I preached about several ways the Bible suggests we can respond to temptation. Last week, I concentrated on how (and why) we want to pursue full-on access to God.

This week our Scriptures center on two additional but related themes: 1. How we attempt to meet our spiritual hungers; and 2, repenting or perishing.

A. Our Isaiah 55:1-9 passage reiterates the truth that we, ourselves, decide whether or not we will come to God. No one can do this for us. The prophet presents God’s offer of salvation as if He were extending to us free food to eat and no cost water, wine, and milk to drink. The food and drink he refers to are not the physical, material substances themselves, but are metaphors for the spiritual nourishment God has for us. St. Augustine (354-430) taught that there is a God-shaped hole in us (I think it is located somewhere in our chest area) that only God can fill. We work hard in life to fill it with other things (idols), but none of these truly satisfies or fills the hole up.

Given that truth, our God does not want us to pursue these false gods. “Rather,” He says in verse 3🡪Give ear and come to Me; hear Me that your soul may live. False gods—like materialism, money, sex, power, influence, popularity, and intellectualism—are all dead ends. They ultimately leave us feeling disillusioned, empty, and dissatisfied. The American millionaire, Jay Gould (1836-1892, his assets then converted to today’s values= $78.3 billion) said as he lay dying, “I suppose I am the most miserable devil on earth.” Similarly the poet, Lord Byron, had fame creative genius, money, position, and lived a life of pleasure, yet he wrote in his poem, “On my Thirty-Sixth Year,” “The worm, the canker, and the grief are mine alone.” (J. Vernon McGee’s commentary on Isaiah 55, p.130). The day I defended my doctoral dissertation, my committee turned to me and each one shook my hand and said, “Congratulations, Dr. Adams!” I walked out of that experience feeling ecstatic, proud of that achievement. About 2-3 days later, however, I thought to myself, “Now what?” That great feeling of accomplishment did not last. But God offers us, through Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and our Bible reading, food for thought and living water that truly sustains us, more than money, fame, pleasure, or accomplishments.

Isaiah also urges us to be ready for God’s deliverance from captivity in Babylon for the Jews (this was the short term prophesy, as Isaiah wrote this before the Jewish population was carried off into captivity). Before He “lowered the boom” on them (enacted punishment) for their continued idolatry, God was already promising them a return to the land (70 years later, allowing the generation of the idolaters to die off). The prophet also foresaw a coming redemption from sin and death with Jesus’ 1st Advent (this is a mid-range prophesy which unfolded 700-750 years later). Finally, he forecasts judgment for us at Jesus’ 2nd Coming (this is the long term prophesy, which has not yet been fulfilled). This is why he says in verse 6🡪Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. In God’s mind, our opportunity to choose Him is time-limited (there is an expiration date). We are to remember that we don’t think on the same level or in the same way as He does.

B. David wrote Psalm 63 from the desert, as he was being pursued by the jealous and murderous King Saul. You would therefore think his first plea would be for God to “save his neck” (protect him from his enemy). Instead, his first request of God is for greater intimacy with Him (verses 1-2)🡪…earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You. He wants to see God (as do we all). He desires full-on access to God. If he can be close to God, he insists that (v.50)🡪My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods….(another food/drink image).

He only refers to God’s protection of him by verses 7-8🡪Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me. Even then, David does not ask for God’s protection and defense; instead, he regards it as a “given,” already believing that God will take care of him. Oh, if we all only had faith like that!

C. Paul gives us a history lesson in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. He recounts how the ancient Israelites blew off (dismissed and ignored) God. Verse 1🡪…our forefathers were all under the cloud…they all passed through the sea. He is saying that they were guided by God (His cloud by day, His pillar of fire by night) as they escaped slavery in Egypt. He also miraculously opened the Red Sea for them to cross. God ordained Moses as their leader. So, in a sense they… were baptized into Moses, meaning they identified with him as their leader—just as we identify with Jesus as our leader and submit to His authority in our own baptism. He goes on to recount in verse 3🡪They ate the same spiritual food [the manna] and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Remember how Jesus offers the woman at the well (John 4:10) living water, free flowing water that never runs out? This is eternal life. Also recall that He refers to Himself as (John 6:35) the bread of life. He is both our spiritual food and our spiritual drink. In a sense, God gave the Israelites in the wilderness Holy Communion before Jesus would later invent it. They had God’s direction, protection, and provision. Nevertheless, as Peterson puts it (The Message, v.11) But just experiencing God’s wonder and grace didn’t seem to mean much—most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.

Paul then goes on to list the ways they rebelled against God:

1.) Some became idolaters (Golden calf) (Exodus 32);

2.) Some committed sexual immorality (during pagan fertility rites)—23,000-24,000 died (Numbers 15:1-9).

3.) Some tested God (regarding food) He sent a wasting disease one time; poisonous snakes another (see Psalm 78:18; 95:9; and 106:14).

4.) Some even complained against God He sent a destroying angel (Numbers 16:41; 21:5-6).

When I was a child, I wrongly assumed that God indiscriminately killed off (smote) a bunch of folks and I felt sorry for them. I have since come to realize that God knows our hearts. He was well aware of who, among the 2 million coming out of Egypt, was guilty of great sin against Him. He singled out only the guilty for punishment, punishment they had been warned would take place. There would have been no cases of mistaken identity or guys punished who were not guilty. Don’t we wish this were so in our court systems today?

Next Paul says (v.11) These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. We can learn vicariously from their experiences. Unfortunately, we are just as capable of messing up as they were and yet, we have Jesus—the fulfillment of the ages. Thank God for Jesus, the fulfillment of over 325 prophesies from the Old Testament! He is our divine rescuer.

Paul concludes that he doesn’t want us to become overly confident, to be naïve, or to think we are exempt from temptations. Instead, he wants us to realize that our Lord never allows us to be tempted without providing us a way out. He is for us, not against us. He will rescue us if we but ask.

D. Jesus is very clear in the Gospel of Luke (13:1-9) that the time for choosing Him is now—Repent or Perish! He lists 2 examples of folks who died untimely deaths. He says their deaths were not due to their sinfulness. His point is that their deaths were unexpected. Since we don’t know the day or time that we will die, we want to get right with God and remain right with God. His fig-tree parable is a metaphor for the nation of Israel. God planted them and provided for them, but they had not gotten themselves right with God. Jesus was implying they still had time. God was/is mighty patient with them/us; but their time was running out, as is ours. For them, time ran out 35 years after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and dispersed the population

We don’t want to run out of time! We want to turn away from the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil and choose God’s free gifts of spiritual food and drink for our souls. This is the only thing that fills up the God-shaped hole in our lives. We want to see God and to be satisfied with intimacy with Him. We don’t want to rebel from God, taking His grace for granted, and sinfully cut ourselves off from Him to perish.

Perhaps you have heard this story: The captain of the ship looked into the dark night and saw faint lights in the distance. Immediately he told his signalman to send a message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south.”

Promptly a return message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north.”

The captain was angered; his command had been ignored. So he sent a second message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south—I am the captain!”

Soon another message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north—I am a seaman third class.”

Immediately the captain sent a third message, knowing the fear it would evoke: “Alter your course 10 degrees south—I am a battleship!”

Then the reply came: “Alter your course 10 degrees north—I am a lighthouse.”

(As read in Chuck Swindoll’s The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, pp.539-540.)

There is no safety or peace in rebellion from God. I believe we want to repent and to choose life, not perish!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Full-on Access to God

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 13, 2022

Scriptures: Gen 15:1-18; Ps 27; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 13:31-35

Children who have been taught about God have such lovely and simple faith in Him. Consider these letters written to God by kids (Google “Kids’ letters to God” to find more):

1. Dear Lord, Thank you for the nice day today. You even fooled the TV weatherman. Hank (7YO)

2. Dear Lord, Do you ever get mad? My mother gets mad all the time but she is only human. Yours truly, Kevin (8YO)

3. Dear God, How did you know you were God? Charles (9YO)

4. Dear God, I bet it is very hard to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in my family and I can never do it. Nan (8YO)

5. Dear God, My brother won’t let me play with his video games. Will you make him share? Love, Janey (6YO)

6. Dear God, Thank you for my baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy. James (8YO)

7. Dear God, Can you guess what is the biggest river of all of them? The Amazon. You ought to be able to because You made it. Ha, Ha. Guess who?

These letters are precious, aren’t they? The kids who wrote them have such simple faith. They see God as Someone to Whom they can take any complaint or concern. They think of God as Someone to Whom they can ask a question and expect an answer; Someone who will make things right;

Someone with Whom they can enjoy a joke or a riddle. They believe, rightly, that they have complete access to God—He is as close as a prayer, a letter, or a text. What happens to us in that we grow up and lose a sense of our full-on access to God? Maybe we think our concerns are too unimportant compared to those of the universe, or maybe we never developed the belief that we could just talk with God in the first place?

Nevertheless, Jesus applauded this kind of faith in us (Matt18:23) I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus wants us to have childlike faith in Him. He wants us to believe we have full-on access to Him.

Each of our Scripture passages today challenge us to believe in our full-on access to Jesus:

1.) In Genesis 15:1-19, God tells Abram (in what is His 4th appearance to him)—Abram who is still awaiting the Child of Promise—that He, God, is Abram’s shield and greatest treasure. In other words, God is Abram’s king or sovereign (shield)—as He is ours. God also wants Abram to know that He keeps His promises. The Lord reiterates that the heir, Isaac, is coming, as are many, many other descendants (v.3)🡪…look up at the heavens and count the stars—indeed if you can count them…So shall your offspring be. God also re-promises this wandering Aramean extensive properties of his own.

Abram has not yet seen either of these come true, but he believes in, trusts in God. In verse 6 we are told Abram believed the Lord, and He [God] credited it to him as righteousness. Jesus had not yet come to earth to redeem us, yet God saved Abram due to his faith (and his obedience). As I said here last week, our salvation is never due to our goodness or to our efforts, but always due to our God’s grace-filled response to our faith in Him. So, will we see Abraham in heaven? YES, we will!

Notice one other point: God reiterates His promises to Abram by literally “cutting a covenant” with him. In the Ancient Near East at that time, when you made a binding agreement with someone, you literally cut animal sacrifices in two and walked between them. You were saying, by so doing, “If I break this agreement, may I die as have these animals.” In this case, God was swearing an oath to Abram on God’s own life. Remarkable!

Also, the forms He used to represent Himself (remember, God is Spirit) are symbolic of the coming Christ: The smoking firepot represents the judgment Jesus will invoke at His 2nd Coming. The burning lamp represents Jesus as the light of the world. We could say, then, that God as the Pre-Incarnate Jesus, swore an oath with Abram. Jesus is surely our King and our greatest treasure!

2.) King David wrote Psalm 27. In the first 6 verses, David expresses his confident reliance upon the Lord. In verses 7-12, he then goes on to pray for deliverance from treacherous enemies. Interestingly, these enemies have leveled false charges against King David. As King Solomon would later write (Ecclesiastes 1:9)🡪What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. This is so like what we witness today, isn’t it, where politicians from one faction conjure up lies and conspiracy theories aimed at discrediting their opponents, and vice versa?

But in verse 4, David articulates his primary desire: One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple. King David desires full-on access to God. He’s got wealth and political power through his throne; He’s got either a land at peace, or military victories; He’s got wives and concubines as well as a bunch of kids (potential heirs). But more than these usual things people yearn for, before anything else, David desires intimate communication with the Lord.

3.) Our New Testament passage today is from Philippians. Just prior to today’s reading, in vv.13-14, Paul asserts🡪…but one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. What goal is he talking about? Intimacy with Jesus. He wants to be as close to Jesus as possible because as he goes on to say (v.20)🡪Our citizenship is in heaven. All that goes on here is a testing, a proving ground for rewards given us later in heaven. Those who don’t pass the test are what Paul calls (vv.18-19)…enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach [meaning satisfying their physical and emotional needs], and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

We don’t want to be like these folks. We want to keep our focus on the things of God, and the will of God.

4.) And if we were not clear on this, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, in Luke 13:31-35. Jesus is praying as He overlooks the city from some height. He is grieved because He knows what is to come:

His betrayal, a series of kangeroo trials, beatings, having His beard torn out, spit upon His face, and crucifixion. The city He has come to die for will soon reject Him. He is grieved because he knows that Jerusalem—the capital city of God’s chosen people—were not desperate enough to seek His face. They preferred to protect their idea of God while refusing and discarding the One Who was God. By discarding Jesus, they gave up a prime opportunity for full-on access to God.

On this, the 2nd Sunday of Lent, as we continue our spiritual housecleaning, we should be asking ourselves, “Where are we in relation to Jesus?” Chuck Swindoll shares the following story of a couple driving home one night from having celebrated their 25th anniversary: The wife was seated across the car, near the passenger side door, and the husband was seated behind the steering wheel as he was the designated driver. The wife said, “with a bit of heartache, ‘Honey, remember when we used to sit really close together in the car?’ And without a hesitation, her husband replied, ‘Well, Honey, I never moved. I’ve been right here all this time.’ ” (Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, 1998, p.307.) That’s how Our God is with us. He’s not moved away from us; we have distanced ourselves from Him.

Like Abram, King David, and St. Paul, we need to adjust our sights or our postures and pursue full-on access to Him. Abram trusted in God’s promises to him. Like Abram we can believe what God has told us, and trust in Him to fulfill His promises to us. David trusted in God’s protection and desired emotional and spiritual closeness with the Lord. He trusted God to protect him because God had done so in the past. David desired to stick to the Lord like glue—again he knew from experience that this is the best of all places to be. Similarly, Paul pursued closeness to God before all things.

He describes this pursuit like an Olympic race. We can imagine him pumping his arms and legs, breathing quickly and shallowly, focusing completely on the finish-line, straining forward as he crosses over. Like Paul, we want to (v.12)…press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

May our faith be as strong as these “Biblical greats.” May we seek full-on access with God like the children whose letters I read. This Lent, may it be so. May we wholeheartedly press on toward full-on access to Our God.

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Ash Wednesday Message: God’s Forgiveness

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 2, 2022

Scriptures: Joel; 2:1-2, 12-17; Ps 51:1-17; 2 Cor 5:20-6:10; Matt 6:1-6, 16-21

Chuck Swindoll relates a story about John D. Rockefeller, (worth 418 billion in 2020 dollars) who built the Standard Oil gas and oil empire of 1870-1911. He was told one day that one of his executives had made a $2 million mistake (a big deal today, but even bigger in the 1880’s-1890’s). As with many such powerful men, Rockefeller was a perfectionist and a workaholic. He worked hard himself, and he demanded hard work and perfection from his employees as well. All the other executives were sure he was enraged and would definitely fire the man who had made the costly error. They all did their best to avoid the boss the day the costly error came to light–except for one vice president who had a scheduled appointment with Rockefeller that afternoon.

When the associate entered the boss’ office, Rockefeller eyed him and asked if he had heard of the massive loss. The vice president steadied himself, said he had heard, and braced to witness the boss’ explosion.

Instead, Rockefeller, replied, “Well, I have been sitting here listing all of our friend’s good qualities on this sheet of paper, and I’ve discovered that in the past he has made us many more times the amount he lost for us today by his one mistake. His good points far outweigh this one human error. So I think we ought to forgive him, don’t you?” (The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.215).

How magnanimous of Rockefeller! Kind of reminds us of our God, doesn’t it? Let’s see what our readings tonight tell us of God’s forgiveness.

1. In Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 the minor prophet is prophesying to the Southern Kingdom that The Day of the Lord—the day of judgment –is coming. In the short term, Judah will be overrun by locusts, resulting in widespread famine. But this is also a metaphor for the long-term prophesy that the Babylonians will invade/take over the Promised Land, unless they change their ways. So his message—from the Lord—is that they need to repent while they still have time. They can avoid locusts, famine, and a Babylonian takeover if they will…

a.) Return to the Lord (stop their worship of idols);

b.) Confess their sins; and

c.) Declare a holy fast, to demonstrate their renewed commitment to God.

Joel reminds them—and us–that God will give them another chance: Verse 13b says He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love…[and] He relents from sending calamity. In other words, God loves them and wants them to draw near to Him, to avoid His judgment. Our culture today is in a similar fix: We have stopped worshipping the One True God. Instead, we have made idols of money, influence, power, materialism, our own intellects, sexual experiences, etc. Like them, if we want to please God, we need to humble ourselves before Him, admit our sins and failures, and ask His forgiveness.

Thankfully, it’s still not too late to avoid God’s wrath and discipline, but they—and we–need to get busy! We need to ask ourselves, in the past year, have we been more concerned with the things of this world than with the things of God? This past year has the Lord always taken 1st place in our hearts? Or have we allowed other priorities, or our worries, to crowd Him out? Have we been so focused on those priorities and fears that we have neglected to nurture our vital relationship with Jesus?

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a period of spiritual house-cleaning lasting 40 days. Scholars have traced its observance to the early 100’s (Irenaeus of Lyons wrote of it). The 40 days are a reminder of the time Jesus fasted in the wilderness. Ashes are applied to the forehead, in the sign of the Cross, to remind us of the truth from Gen 3:19 (as told to Adam and Eve by God) Remember you are dust and to dust you will return. The ashes are a sign of our repentance and our sorrow for our sins. As such, they remind us of the need to maintain our commitment to love and please Almighty God.

2. David’s sorrow for his sins is perfectly recalled in Psalm 51.

The prophet Nathan has confronted him about his sins of coveting Uriah the Hittite’s wife, the beautiful Bathsheba; and of his subsequent adultery with her and murder of her warrior husband. His lament to God provides a perfect example of how we should feel about our own sins. He takes personal responsibility—he doesn’t blame Bathsheba or any others. He humbly pleads with God to forgive him and to cleanse his heart (v.10) Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast [right] spirit within me. David ended his life as a man after God’s own heart. This means that despite his sins, he pleased the Lord. We too, following David’s humble and heartfelt example, restore ourselves into God’s favor.

3. Paul calls for us to be reconciled to God in 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10. We do this by remembering that Jesus, who was sinless, took on all our sins so that we could stand before God with clear consciences and clean hearts. Paul also tells us we do this by not allowing anything to displace our focus on God.

Do you recognize the theme running through these passages? Remember what Jesus has done for us. Keep God 1st in our lives. Humble ourselves, taking frequent inventories of our sins. Seek God’s face and ask His forgiveness.

4. In Matt 6:1-6, 16-21, Jesus tells us how to best go about fasting and doing good in God’s name. We are to fast and practice good deeds quietly, without fanfare. He assures us that even if no one else notices, God does. And that this is how we store up lasting treasure for ourselves in heaven. It’s not how we get ourselves to heaven because Jesus has already done that for us. But it both blesses God’s heart and draws us closer to Him.

Again, today we begin the season of Lent. Instead of the usual agreement to fast, I am asking us all to add something. This will involve a sacrifice of time and energy, but you will be amazed at how it will bless others, and at how God will bless you because of it. I am asking you to pray daily for the people on our prayer list; for the women, children, and elderly of the war-torn country of Ukraine; and that our country would return to Christ.

Rather than pray, you may choose instead to make a list of all those you have not forgiven, and make a commitment to forgive them–a practice that will draw you closer to Christ. Let’s please the Lord by being as magnanimous as John D. Rockefeller. Let’s please the Lord by praying for others. Let’s please the Lord by forgiving others as He has forgiven us. Amen! May it be so!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Our Divine Benefactor

Pastor Sherry’s Message for February 21, 2021

Scriptures: Gen 9:8-17; Ps 25:1-10; 1 Pet 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

         Back in ancient times, when a person could no longer repay their debts (they were forced into bankruptcy), a list was made of how much they owed to whomever, and this list was posted in a public place.  The idea was to punish them by humiliation.  The list was posted with a nail at the top and at the bottom.  If the bankrupt person had a wealthy friend, that friend might feel moved to wipe out the debt.  If so, the friend would remove the bottom nail, fold over the parchment, re-secure the list with that nail, and write his signature across the document. This action signified to all that the wealthy friend would cover all his debtor friend owed.  How fortunate for the debtor!

         This is exactly what Jesus Christ has done for us.  Like that ancient debtor, we too were/are over our heads in what we owed God for having sinned against Him.  But in our case, Jesus is our wealthy friend, our Divine Benefactor.  His death atoned for (covered the cost of) our sins.  By going to the Cross, our sinless Savior signified that He had taken on our punishment.  Since Scripture tells us the wages of sin is death, Jesus’ substitionary death by crucifixion totally wiped out our debt to God the Father.  From the Cross, Christ wrote paid across the list of our sins. Jesus, our Divine Benefactor, did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  What a blessing!  What a testimony to God’s love, grace, and mercy!

         Our Scripture passages today all speak of God’s love, grace, and mercy.  On this 1st Sunday of Lent, let’s be Bereans (the original folks from Missouri, the “Show me State”) and examine them to see.

         A.  Genesis 9:8-17After flooding the earth and wiping out all life forms except those in the ark, God establishes a covenant with Noah, his sons, their wives, all future humans, and all animals.  God Himself promised Noah He would never again judge the earth with a worldwide flood.  People then must have been pretty bad to have brought on such a drastic punishment!  Out of all the persons on earth, only Noah, his wife, and his 3 sons and their wives, were righteous (Would we have made it into the ark?).  Of all the persons on earth then, only8 were spared.  YIKES!  Did God have to make a promise to Noah?  No!  He’s God.  He’s not beholden to anyone.  Nevertheless, He made Noah an unconditional promise to never punish humankind with another flood.  This is why Biblical scholars believe the next big punishment will come by fire, wind, plagues, and/or earthquakes.  God then went on to sign this promise with the symbol of the rainbow.  This symbol has been co-opted by the LGBTQ movement; but it was originally meant as a symbol of God’s covenant commitment to us.  This passage demonstrates God’s love, grace and mercy to humankind (and to animal-kind, as well).

         B. Psalm 25:1-10.  This psalm was composed by King David as a plea for God’s mercy and for deliverance from David’s enemies.  It’s written as an acrostic, with each verse beginning with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. An American example of this might be the following:

                          A-All of us look to God,

                          B–because He loves us and is powerful.

                          C—Consequently we can trust in Him to care for us, etc.

In this psalm, David expresses his confidence in God to care for him in his time of trouble.  

         Verses 1-3 articulateDavid’s plea that God would thwart his enemies, especially those who transgress against him without reason or justification.

You might be able to think of someone like that in your life.  Two families in our congregation are currently being pestered and annoyed by a mean and vengeful neighbor.  They aren’t even aware of what they have done to set this unforgiving and unhinged man off.   Notice that David doesn’t gossip or talk ugly about his enemies, but just takes his complaint about them to the Lord.  This is what we need to do about this aggravating and threatening neighbor.  Pray for him.  Pray for a change in his heart and in his thinking.  As Paul says, this kind of response will heap burning coals on his head.

         In verses 4-5, David moves to asking God to teach him God’s ways.

He wants to be led by God’s Truths.  He obediently waits upon the Lord for guidance.  In verse 6, David asks God to…remember Your tender mercies and Your loving kindnesses.       But, in verse 7, he beseeches God to please forget his sins.  Even though Jesus has not yet come to redeem David’s sins, David is hopeful he will receive God’s pardon by asking.

Finally, as he also wrote in Psalm 23:6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life…, he sums up his confidence and trust in the Lord.  David’s faith and certainty in the Lord are a great model for us.

         C.  1 Peter 3:18-22 returns us to the theme that Jesus died for to make atonement for our sins.  Peter reminds his readers in verse 18àFor Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.  Eugene Peterson paraphrases it this way in The Message:  that’s what Christ did, definitively:  Suffered because of others’ sins–the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones.  He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God.  Once again, we are being reminded that Jesus paid the price for our sins.

         Then Peter makes reference to Noah.  He surprisingly claims that God worked through Noah for 120 years to bring the lawless and the sinful to God (construction of the ark apparently took 120 years).  Some scholars believe Peter may have instead been referring to the interval between Jesus’ death and resurrection, suggesting that Jesus went into Hades to preach repentance to those of Noah’s time who had not submitted themselves to God during their lives.  Whatever the case, Peter restates that only 8 persons were saved from the flood.  Noah and his family went through a symbolic baptism.  During the flood, their sins–not their bodies–were washed away, as are ours when we are baptized into Christ.

         As a man who once abandoned Christ, Peter wants us to realize that it is Jesus’ death and resurrection that save us.  Again, as Peterson summarizes verse 22àJesus has the last word on everything and everyone, from angels to armies.  He’s standing right alongside God, and what He says goes.

         D.  Mark 1:9-15.

         John Mark very concisely sets out Jesus’ baptism, His temptation in the desert for 40 days, and how He emerges from this time of       testing to begin His ministry.  Like His cousin, John the Baptist, Jesus calls folks to repentance.  But He goes beyond John the Baptist in that, rather than state that Messiah is coming, He declares (v.15)…the kingdom of God is near.  In other words, God is near them in the person of Jesus; or, God rules and reigns on the earth through Jesus.

         I have preached to you several times already about Jesus’ baptism and temptations.  Today, let me just emphasize that He was probably temped all 40 days in the wilderness.  Scripture only makes mention of 3 big temptations, but I believe we can rest assured that Satan was relentless with Jesus—just as he is with us!  Is it only me, or do you find that the evil one tempts you daily, almost constantly?

         Then, having resisted these temptations, Jesus initiates His ministry with power!  He doesn’t falter or flatter.  He says, essentially (again, re Peterson)àTime’s up!  God’s Kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message [the Gospel; the Good News].  What is that Good News?  It is that…

                          1.) God loves us with a steadfast and generous love.

                          2.) So much so that He sent His only Son to take on the penalty for our debts.

                          3.) We don’t have to work our way into God’s favor.

                          4.) We enjoy God’s favor due to the selfless, saving death  of Christ.

         Today is the 1st Sunday of Lent.  Our Scriptures remind us that Jesus Christ is our Divine Benefactor.  He paid the price for our sins so that we don’t have to.  He paid the price for our sins because we, like the massive debtor of ancient times, could not do so for ourselves.  As I said on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a time to re-evaluate our relationship to God, to take a searching moral inventory (Step 4 of AA) of our sinfulness, and to repent and to ask God’s forgiveness.

         Because of our Diving Benefactor, Jesus, we can trust in God’s love, grace, and mercy towards us.   Whether you choose to give up something for Lent or to take on a new spiritual discipline, let’s be sure to express our gratitude to God the Father for sending us Jesus Christ, our  Divine Benefactor    .  Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ!                                

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams