When Rule-Breaking is Justified

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 21, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 1:4-10; Ps 71:1-6; Heb 12:14-29; Lk 13:10-17

The story is told about… “Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII, was called by adoring New Yorkers ‘the Little Flower’ because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.

“Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor.” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.” LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions–ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: ‘Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.’ So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.”

(Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Multnomah, 1990, pp 91-2.)

This is a story of grace in action, isn’t it? The mayor exacted the lawful penalty, paid it himself–just as God has done for us through the saving work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Then, by fining each person present 50 cents, he made everyone aware of the fact that no one should have to starve in NYC. It was a wise move by an elected official. It makes me wish we had more persons like him as mayors in big cities today. He didn’t break the rule; instead he enforced it and took it a step beyond.

In our Gospel lesson today (Luke 13:10-17), Jesus demonstrates for us a criterion for when rule-breaking is justified.

The Gospels mention 5 healings by Jesus on the Sabbath:

1.) The first (Luke 4:31+; Mark1:21+) is of a demon-possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum. Interestingly enough, the demons recognize that Jesus is the Son of God. He has to tell them to hush, as He sends them out of the guy. Everyone present is amazed at His power to heal and His authority over demons (the supernatural realm).

2.) The 2nd (Luke 6:6+; also recounted in Matthew and Mark), Jesus heals a man with a withered right hand. Again, the people are delighted; but, by now, the Scribes and Pharisees are feeling threatened by Jesus and are looking to discredit Him for violating their interpretation of what it means to keep the Sabbath holy. This time before healing the man, Jesus asks, Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it? He had just asserted in verse 6, The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath [He is uniquely qualified to establish and interpret the law]. Now He equates healing with doing good and saving life. It is alright to break the Sabbath rule about not working when it involves healing a person. He has challenged their interpretation of what can be done on the Sabbath and this infuriates the religious establishment.

3.) 3rd, John 5:1-18 the man at the Pool of Bethesda or Bethsaida. The religious officials do not see Jesus heal the man—remember He said, Get up! Pick up your mat and walk. Instead, they bust him, the man who had been an invalid for 38 years, for working on the Sabbath. Carrying his mat was construed by them as doing work. He tells them he is just doing as he had been told. They want to know who healed him, but he doesn’t know. He later learns it was Jesus and “rats Him out.” Such ingratitude!

4.) The 4th account is recorded for us in today’s Gospel. The poor woman has been bent over for 18 years. Did she have severe scoliosis? Or a bad bend like a “Widow’s Hump” from osteoporosis? We don’t know the nature of the affliction, but we can become quite vividly aware of what this would be like. Stand up, bend over half way, and take a minute to notice what this feels like. If you were out in public, you would not be able to see peoples’ faces. Your behind is pointed up, which would leave you feeling very vulnerable. And, just like with people in wheelchairs, you might be overlooked or dismissed due to your shortened stature. I once flew to a conference with a fellow named David who was wheel-chair bound. He had a Labrador named Zeus as his PAWS service dog. Zeus wore a small saddle with a handle by which he could tow David when the man tired. Whenever we approached an airline gate, I noted that the attendants usually spoke to me rather than David. He would then speak up and say, “I am right here and can respond to you about me,” to redirect them to his status as an adult.

In our Gospel lesson today, the Synagogue ruler is indignant: He insists, “Today is for worship; healing can take place the other 6 days of the week.” Jesus then addresses everyone who agrees (v.15) You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham who Satan has kept bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her? Her condition cries out for a healing, which Jesus graciously provides. Again, the rule can be broken when doing so might promote someone being healed.

The conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities now intensifies as (v.17) The people were delighted with all of the wonderful things He was doing. But the synagogue ruler and however many Pharisees and scribes were present … were humiliated.

5.) The 5th and last Sabbath healing occurs when Jesus is dining at a Pharisee’s house (Luke 14:1-6) A man with “dropsy” (accumulation of fluid in the legs; Elephantiasis?) appears. Before He acts, Jesus asks, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? As any good teacher would do, He is reviewing with them what they may have learned. He is asking, “Have we learned anything new about how we apply the rules for Sabbath-keeping? Have your hearts changed at all?” The answer is “crickets.” They respond with silence. Jesus then heals the man and asks, If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out? Again, they do not answer. There was provision in the rules for such a rescue. Their Sabbath rules permitted loosing/untying a bound animal on the Sabbath so it could access water. However, Jesus knows their hearts are hard and that they are opposed to Him and to His teaching. I believe the man may have been a set-up, which Jesus would have ascertained.

Notice that Jesus acts compassionately, anyway. Like Jeremiah, called to preach an exceedingly unpopular message to Jerusalem (“Repent! The end is coming!”)—Jesus is now healing at his own peril. Don’t you admire His courage? They are even now plotting against Him, but He continues to go about doing the will of His Father.

Let’s look again at the Bent-Over Woman: She doesn’t approach Jesus. She’s been miserable and perhaps in pain for a long, long time.

Nevertheless, Jesus calls her forward (Remember, Rabbis typically did not speak to women). But Jesus participated in a theological discussion with the unnamed woman at the well (John 4:1-41); spared the unnamed woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11); and forgave the unnamed woman who washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). I believe these women are un-named because the Lord wants us to identify with them. Jesus correctly recognizes that she is crippled due to demonic activity. He has authority over the demonic, so He touches her and speaks a rhema healing word to set her free. In the original Greek text, this is a play on words: Satan has bound her but Jesus loosed her.

He uses a style of rabbinic argument they would have recognized if you would do this for your animals (the lesser) than why not for a person, a daughter of Abraham (the greater)? They are not logical in their zeal for the letter of the Law. They have let their focus on upholding the Law obscure their love for a neighbor. They have let their jealousy and envy of Jesus’ power blind them to the spirit of the Law. They seemed to have missed that God, the Lord of the Sabbath, sometimes works on the Sabbath.

People can still be bent over today due to disease, right? But what else keeps people bound? Habitual sins like alcoholism; drug-addiction; pornography and sex addiction; and choosing the pursuit of money, power, fame, etc, over pursuing God.

What is our response to them supposed to be? Respond with the compassion of Christ. Like the former mayor of NYC, we can keep the law but also exhibit compassion. Like Jesus, who created the Law, we may break a rule to mend a broken life. This week, look for any opportunities God sets before you to demonstrate compassion. Take the risk of being rejected or of looking foolish. You may be used by God to utter healing words. You may be used by God to demonstrate love to the unloved or unlovely (what Jesus called …the least of these). By doing so, you might just save someone’s eternal life.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Packing Light, Packing Right

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 26, 2022

Scriptures: 2 Kgs 2:1-18; Ps 77:1-2, 11-20; Gal 5:1. 13-25; Lk 9:51-62

I would have liked to preach the passage about Elijah and Elisha, or the one from Galatians, but the Lord told me to preach the Gospel lesson today. I wrote my sermon, then looked back over my sermons for the past 6 years, and realized that I had preached this Gospel lesson (Luke 9:51-62) twice already, in 2016 and 2019. The Lord must believe we need to hear this lesson yet again.

The story is told of a dairy farmer who decided he needed a new pick-up truck: “He had seen an ad in the paper about discounts and factory rebates, so he decided to trade in his old clunker. [My farmer son-in-law just replaced his pick-up truck; it had 470,000 miles on it!] He chose a new model and was ready to write the check for the full amount. The salesman said, “Wait, I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” The farmer said, “Isn’t it the price I saw in the papers? The salesman said, “No, that’s for the basic model, all the options cost extra.” So after the options were added, the farmer reluctantly wrote a check and drove off in his new pick-up.

A few months later the car salesman called the farmer because he wanted to buy a cow for his son’s 4-H [or FFA] project. The farmer assured the car salesman he had several good milk cows for sale for $500. The salesman drove out and selected a cow and took out his checkbook. The farmer said, “Wait. I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” Then he handed the salesman a bill that read:

BASIC COW $500

Two-tone exterior $45, Extra stomach $75, Milk storage compartment $60, Straw recycle compartment $120, Four handy spigots @ $10 each $40, Leather upholstery $125, Dual horns $45, Automatic rear fly swatter $38, Natural fertilizer attachment $185.

GRAND TOTAL $1233.

Whether you’re buying cars or cows, it’s important to get to what we call “the bottom line.” What is the “bottom line” of following Jesus? You may go into sticker shock when you discover it. Many people are only interested in the basic model of Christian living. They want just enough Christianity to keep them out of hell without intruding on their fun. You don’t find the full cost of discipleship advertised very often these days. Few preachers discuss it because it is unpleasant; it doesn’t fill churches. It isn’t the prosperity gospel that says, “Believe and you will be rich and happy.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship [and he should know as he died for his faith], “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to die.” (borrowed from a sermon by David Dykes, Don’t Waste Your Life, 8/31/2011.)

Pretty sobering, isn’t it?

Now consider, if you felt called to follow Jesus (and I hope each of you does), how would you pack? You might take a change or two of clothing; your Bible; your toothbrush, comb, and some toiletries; and your prescription meds and any supplements you use. But Jesus doesn’t concern Himself with any of these practical items. Instead He tells you to count the cost, to be sure you are prepared to do what it takes to be His follower. He is more concerned with your priorities than your creature comforts. He is most concerned with your heart-attitudes.

Essentially the message of our Gospel lesson today is to “Pack Light and Pack Right” (Luke 9:51-62). Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and to His crucifixion. He knows His time left to disciple/train His followers is brief. So He takes the shortcut, from His 3rd tour of Galilee in the North to Jerusalem in the South–which involves walking through Samaria. He has sent messengers ahead to a village to prepare for His arrival. He now travels with a retinue including the 12 disciples and a number of women who help pay their expenses from their own wealth. Unfortunately, the messengers discover the Samaritans there don’t want Him to sojourn in their village. YIKES! They reject Christ!

John and James are so outraged that they ask Him to call down the wrath of God on that community. They must have forgotten His admonition to them at the beginning of Chapter 9, when He had sent out the 12, two-by-two to practice on their own what He had taught and demonstrated for them: (1) They were to pack light, depending on God for their provision; (2) They were to preach, heal the sick, and cast out demons in Jesus’ name; (3) And they were to shake the dust off their feet and leave behind any who rebuffed them. There was to be no punishing of those who rejected them or Jesus.

In a sense, rejecting Jesus embodies its own punishment: eternal damnation. Remember, the pig farmers from last week’s Gospel (Luke 8:26-39), preferred saving their livelihoods to saving their souls. Jesus didn’t even rebuke them. He just got back in the boat and returned to Galilee. Jesus’ way is not to take revenge, not to try to ruin those who disagree with Him—so counter to our cancel culture of today. Instead, Jesus modeled for us to be patient, and to pray for and offer grace and forgiveness to those who reject Christ, or who mock or spurn us because we follow Him.

In His subsequent encounters with 3 would-be disciples, Jesus teaches that following Him takes commitment. The 1st man says confidently (v.57) that he will follow Jesus anywhere. Perhaps he has in mind the idea of following a traditional rabbi. Students walked beside or behind him and absorbed his teaching. Later they would convey it to others, saying: Rabbi Hillel said this…Rabbi Gamaliel said that. Have you ever noticed that Jesus never referenced another rabbi, saying instead, you have heard it said ________, but I say ________. There was no more important authority than Jesus, the Father or the Spirit.

But the apostles could have told the man that following Jesus was more like following a prophet. It included a kind of peripatetic “home-schooling.” They learned from Him while they walked with Him, listening to His wisdom and witnessing His miracles. Additionally, a prophet lived off of donations from those who responded to his ministry. So Jesus tells the guy, I’m homeless. Can you commit to being homeless too? I’m rejected. Can you live with being rejected too? Interestingly, Scripture doesn’t tell us the guy’s answer.

Jesus Himself recruited the 2nd fellow (v.59), and the man seemed to have a legitimate reason for hesitating—First let me go and bury my father. Jesus’ reply seems severe: Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Biblical scholars believe the guy’s father may have been alive still and thriving (Jesus would know that). He was asking to delay until a later time, like…wait until my kids finish high school; until my daughter gets married (and I have paid off the wedding); until my health improves; or until I win the lottery. Jesus was nearly out of time, so this excuse didn’t wash with Him. Nothing, not even family obligations, should come before what we owe God. Whenever there is a choice, God comes 1st.

The 3rd man volunteers to follow Jesus, but wants a brief delay to bid farewell to his family. Again Jesus offers him what seems to our ears a harsh admonition (v.62) No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. (If someone pushing a hand-plow looks back, they are sure to plow a crooked row.). Jesus’ exacting sounding response means that the man cannot hang onto his old life and also adopt the new. Being Jesus’ disciple means not looking back but looking forward to what might be a rough road ahead.

Recently I read a true story about a preacher who was standing at the door shaking hands as the congregation departed. He grabbed one man by the hand and pulled him aside. The preacher said to him, “You need to join the Army of the Lord!” The man replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Preacher.” The preacher questioned, “How come I don’t see you except for Christmas and Easter?” He whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”

Given what Jesus says in today’s Gospel, how many of you think our Lord would be pleased by what the guy in this story said? Jesus may have been amused, but I think He would then have taken the guy to task. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us (10:25)–>Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another….We encourage each other when we worship together. We have also seen that there is power in corporate worship and power in corporate prayer. Furthermore, once you get into the habit of attending church, you feel like your whole day is amiss if you skip it. Times I have almost not come to church (before being ordained), I would discover something was preached or a Scripture was read that I was exactly meant to hear. If I had not attended that day, I would have missed out on something the Lord meant for me to learn!

When we follow Jesus, we sign on to more than the “basic model” of Christianity, which is…we love Him; we obey Him; and we love others. But we also pack Light—only the essentials—and we pack Right. We choose Jesus above all relationships and all things. He comes 1st. We follow Him, even if it means we suffer rejection and perhaps persecution (On Pentecost, 50 Nigerian Christians were killed while worshipping in their church—most likely by Nigerian Moslems. I know an Anglican Bishop there, Ben Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria. He has for years slept on a concrete floor instead of a comfortable bed, anticipating the day his Moslem neighbors arrest and imprison him. We don’t experience that kind of persecution—yet. But you may have noticed increasingly negative remarks about Christians in the media, and you may have experienced being mocked for your faith.

A number of you have heard me say that I had a vision of Jesus right before I was ordained. He wore the crown of thorns and a white robe, and smiled at me. I believed then and still do that His smile meant He approved of my entering the ministry. He didn’t say a word, but He reached behind Himself and pulled out a crown of thorns for me too. Later, I realized He was warning me that the cost of discipleship is high. I thought to myself at the time, At least it wasn’t a cross! But recently a pastor friend told me one of our seminary professors said in class, If you want to be ordained, you should ask yourself, “How do I look on wood?” Ordained or not, following Jesus is not a walk in the park. it is a death to self. However, embracing Jesus and dying to self is the only route to God’s heart.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Worshipping the God of Love

Pastor Sherry’s message for 12/26/2021

Scriptures: Isa 61:10-62:3; Ps 148; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2: 22-40

Does it matter which God-concept we hold to? Recent brain research by Dr. Newberg at the University of Pennsylvania has documented that all forms of contemplative meditation were associated with positive brain changes—but the greatest improvements occurred when participants meditated specifically on a God of love, our God, the One, True God. “Such meditation was associated with growth in the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain right behind our forehead where we reason, make judgments and experience Godlike love) and subsequent increased capacity for empathy, sympathy, compassion and altruism.”

“But here’s the most astonishing part. Not only does other-centered love increase when we worship a God of love, but sharp thinking and memory improve as well. In other words, worshiping a God of love actually stimulates the brain to heal and grow.”

Taken from The God-Shaped Brain, Timothy Jennings 2017, IVPress, Downers Grove, IL.

That’s pretty astonishing, isn’t it? It suggests that worshipping God keeps our brains sharp. In other words, worshipping God is scientifically good for us! But we already knew that worshipping God was a good thing to do, right?

Our Scriptures today, the day after Christmas, are all calls to, or demonstrations of, worshipping God.

A. Our Old Testament lesson comes from Isaiah 61:10-62:3. The prophet is speaking for the Messiah, who in Isaiah’s day, was not due to appear until a good 750 years later. Isaiah tells us (v.10) that the Messiah believes we have reason to be filled with joy as we worship our God. After all, all creatures and all believers are presently groaning and travailing (and have been for centuries) for His Kingdom to manifest on earth.

Messiah yearns to change that for us (62:1): For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. Verse 2: At Jesus’ 2nd Coming, those of us who believe in Him will have a new heart, a new situation, a new earth, and a new righteousness, all of which will deserve a new name. And Israel will have a new positon among the nations: (v.3)You will be a crown of splendor in the Lords’ hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

No wonder the Messiah is joyous—we should be too! He knows, way in advance, what God the Father intends to do for us. And Jesus, because He too is a God of love, is highly motivated to bring it all about.

B. Psalm 148 is a stirring invitation to all of creation to praise the Lord! In verse after verse, all of Heaven and earth is called to dynamically and energetically offer praise to our God—listen to Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible into modern English (The Message, pp.1090-1091) You will be more impressed if you read it out loud to yourself:

Hallelujah! Praise God from heaven,

praise Him from the mountaintops;

Praise Him, all His angels,

praise Him, all you His warriors,

Praise Him, sun and moon,

Praise Him, high heaven,

praise Him, you morning stars;

praise Him, heavenly rain clouds;

Praise, oh let them praise the name of God—

He spoke the word, and there they were!

He set them in place

from all time and eternity;

He gave His orders,

And that’s it!

Praise God from earth,

You sea dragons, you fathomless ocean deeps;

Fire, and hail, snow and ice,

hurricanes obeying His orders;

Mountains and all hills,

apple orchards and cedar forests;

Wild beasts and herds of cattle,

snakes and birds in flight;

Earth’s kings and all races,

leaders and important people,

Robust men and women in their prime,

and yes, graybeards and little children.

Let them praise the name of God—

it’s the only name worth praising.

You would be hard pressed to discover any creature or category of created thing omitted from that list. All of creation should worship God because He created us out of His great love!

C. Our Galatians 4:4-7 reading adds to our reasons to celebrate God. Paul writes (v.4), in His perfect timing, God sent Jesus to redeem us so that we might receive the full rights of sons. We weren’t just set free and sent on our way, like prisoners let out of jail, You’re on your own now; stay clean and have a good life! They fail and land back in prison because they have become “institutionalized,” and don’t know how to make it outside prison walls. No, Paul tells us our God made us sons/daughters. He included us in His family. Additionally, He sent (v.6) …the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.”

We are to consider God our loving, heavenly Father. We can rely upon His Holy Spirit to teach us and guide us into right ways to live. And we can take heart in the fact that we are now His heirs, through Christ Jesus. I had a brother-in-law named George who used to joke about receiving his inheritance check– which never came. My father-in-law left my mother-in-law millions when he died, but by the time she passed away, she had spent it all. There was none left for the grown children to inherit. Unlike George, we don’t have to wonder if there is anything left for us to inherit. The God of love has promised that we are His heirs, inheritors of His Kingdom through Christ Jesus. We can rejoice in God’s gracious provision for us.

D. Our Gospel lesson, Luke 2:21-40, tells of two saintly, elderly folks who hung around the Temple, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Messiah. They trusted in the promises of God. The Holy Spirit told Simeon he would see the Messiah, the comforter or the consolation of Israel before he died. Mary and Joseph traveled to the Temple to both (1) see to the rites of purification required of Mary (40 days after giving birth, as per Leviticus 5. They could sacrifice either 2 doves or 2 pigeons because they were poor); and (2) to dedicate their first-born, Jesus, to the Lord (as per Exodus 13:13).

Simeon, alerted by the Holy Spirit, takes Jesus in his arms and prays over Him. He sings a song now called the Nunc Dimittis, or The Song of Simeon (which we sang almost daily in my seminary chapel services) 76:

Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace,

according to Your word.

For my eyes have seen Your salvation,

which You have prepared before the face of all people;

and to be the glory of your people Israel.

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles,

We directly followed this, in song, with The Gloria: Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen.

But back to Simeon: He rejoices that God has kept His promise, that he has seen Messiah. Now he can go on to his grave, satisfied. He recognizes Jesus as a light, a blessing to both Jews and Gentiles. Then he blesses the baby and warns Mary that people will be divided over how they see Him, savior or fraud or crazy man; and she will suffer (Joseph will be gone by then) deep anguish (at the Cross).

Anna was an 84 year old prophetess. She was a devout woman of prayer and fasting, who lived in a room on the Temple grounds. When she saw Jesus, she knew (through the Holy Spirit) who He was. She gave thanks to God for Him. She proclaimed to anyone who would listen His identity. Some may have listened and remembered later; but others probably dismissed her as an old nutcase.

These two elderly saints trusted in the promises of God and lived to see the baby Jesus. No wonder they both rejoiced in the God of love!

Christmas Day was yesterday, but we can keep it all year in our hearts if we remember we worship the God of love…The One who gifted us first with Jesus Christ. The One who presented us with a way to abide in His presence. Let us bring Him gifts of love in return: (1.) Our faithful trust in Him; (2.) Our obedience to His will; and (3.) Our deep desire to make Him known to others.

Come, let us adore Him!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Love All Lovely, Love Divine

Pastor Sherry’s message for December 19, 2021

Scriptures: Micah 5:2-5a; Lk 1:46b-55; Heb 10:5-10; Lk 1:39-43

Two weeks ago, Bonnie chose one of my favorite hymns for Advent: Love Came Down at Christmas, a poem by Christina Rosetti (1874-1948), set to an Irish melody🡪

Love came down at Christmas.

Love all lovely, love divine;

Love was born at Christmas,

Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,

Love incarnate, love divine;

Worship we our Jesus,

But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,

Love be yours and love be mine.

Love to God and neighbor,

Love for plea and gift and sign.

This hymn reminds us that our God is love! That the way He responds to us is always motivated by His love. That Jesus’ birth and later His death on the Cross for our sakes were both manifestations of God’s great love for us. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word is hesed and means God’s faithful, long suffering, loyal love for us. In the New Testament, the Greek equivalent is agapeo.

Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent and we lit the 4th candle of the Advent Wreath, the one that signifies love, God’s hesed, God’s agapeo for us. It is to be expected, then, that our Scriptures today all emphasize different perspectives on God’s love—and they do.

A. Written some 700 years prior to Jesus’ birth, our Old Testament lesson comes from the prophesies of Micah (5:2-5a). God the Father authorized Micah to tell Israel (and us) that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. We recall from the Nativity Narrative that:

1.) Caesar Augustus had authorized an empire-wide census to be taken so as to aid with government taxation.

2.) Everyone was to journey to their birth-place to be counted. I was born in Seattle. I would have had to journey there from N. Florida at my own expense—no per diem for help with meals and accommodations, no money for gas. You can see how onerous a requirement this would have been.

3.) However, this decree accounted for Mary and Joseph’s travels from Nazareth in the north to Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem. This is a distance today—given paved highways—of about 97.5 miles or 2 hours by car. On foot and by donkey, it probably took 4.5 to 5 days. Mary was then 8.5-9 months pregnant! YIKES! Imagine the discomfort! Mary and Joseph were certainly braver than most of us would have been. But given God’s protection and provision, they completed the journey just before the baby arrived.

Additionally, God declares (v.2) Out of you [Bethlehem] will come for Me One who will be ruler over Israel, Whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. This Jesus will arrive from heaven, incarnate, as a dependent baby; nevertheless, as the 2nd person of the Trinity, He has always been and always will be God. It has been said that at His birth, Jesus who was already in existence in heaven, “clothed Himself in humanity.”

Like the Malachi prophesy from 2 weeks ago, Micah foretells the fact that, due to God’s silence for 400 years, (v.3)🡪Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth….

God will (and did) break His silence at the birth of Jesus. Furthermore, when Messiah returns a 2nd time, all of Israel [and all believers in Jesus] will be gathered together. At His 2nd Coming, Jesus (v.4) …will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.

What Great Good News! At that time, we will live in safely and security. When I moved to Live Oak, Florida, in 1975, most people left their cars and their back doors unlocked. Car keys were often found on the dash or the car console somewhere. Most felt very secure that no one would steal their vehicle or break into their home. We will return to that state when Christ comes again. Jesus will rule in such a way that He will provide us with everlasting peace. Isn’t this truly a message of God’s love?!

B. Our Gospel lesson, Luke 1:39-43, relates Elizabeth’s response to Mary’s arrival at her home. But first, let’s recall the “backstory” to this event: Back in verse 26, we are told that the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her she is to bear God’s Son. She is thought to have been somewhere between 14-18 years old. She was a virgin, betrothed or pledged to Joseph, but not yet having had conjugal relations or living as man and wife (unlike the practices common today).

Gabriel tells her, “Greetings! You who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Those of you from a Roman Catholic background will recognize the first lines of the “Hail Mary Prayer,” Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” We can only surmise that Mary felt some mix of fear, wonder, and confusion. After all, angels are said to be very large and tend to appear suddenly. The angel hastens to reassure her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end”

I am always amazed that her only question was one of mechanics: “How will this be? How can I become pregnant without a man? Or even, “How will the divine mix with the human? God become a baby?” Gabriel replies to her, “Nothing is impossible with God!” We should repeat this daily, “Nothing is impossible with God!” Her beautiful response is one of humility and obedience: “I am the Lord’s servant…may it be to me as you have said.”

Put yourself in Mary’s shoes. Wouldn’t you have been overwhelmed? “Whoa, what an honor! I’ve been chosen to bear God’s Son!” But then wouldn’t your next immediate thought be, but I’m not married…how will I explain this to…Joseph, the neighbors, my mother and father?!! At that time, the Law said the penalty for fornication (having sex outside of marriage) was the stoning of both parties. Mary was actually in danger, not just of disapproval and gossip, but of being executed. The Earthly Reality looked grim!

But in verse 36, Gabriel tells her that her older cousin Elizabeth is pregnant too, in her 6th month. Gabriel has suggested a reprieve, a time out for her. She can leave town before she starts to show, and soak up on some love and nurturing from someone who will understand and not condemn.

This is the focus of our passage today: Elizabeth is so glad to see her that she proclaims in verse 42, Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear! [the second line of the “Hail Mary Prayer,” Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”]. But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth immediately affirms that all Gabriel told Mary is true. She will bear the Messiah. As a sign of this, John the Baptist leaps in her womb. No matter the earthly circumstances, the Heavenly Reality is GREAT JOY!!! Consequently, Mary is encouraged and affirmed by someone who shares her awe and delight.

Mary experiences God’s love for her through His choice of her as the theotokis, the God-bearer, and by her cousin’s reassurance, warmth, and faith.

C. The writer to the Hebrews (10:5-10)wants us to clearly realize that Jesus, like his mother Mary—and his step-father Joseph—was an obedient servant of His Heavenly Father. This passage attributes to Jesus the words from Psalm 40:6-8–Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about Me in the scroll—I have come to do Your will, O God.’

In other words, Jesus came into the world to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. His death on the Cross once-and–for-all paid the price for our sins.

There is no further need to offer up animal sacrifices to cleanse us from sin.

The animal sacrifice only covered the most recent sins. Later, after sinning again, more animals would have to be sacrificed. But one Jesus did it all for everyone for all time! What a perfect gift of love!

D. We know from Luke 1: 26-45 that Mary was humble and obedient. Her behavior provides an excellent example for us of what love for God compels us to do. In our psalm-like, New Testament song, Luke 1:46-55, we see her humility demonstrated yet again in her song of praise, the Magnificat. Notice: We would expect the whole psalm to say, “YIPPEE, God picked ME!” This was every Jewish girl’s dream. And she does briefly rejoice in God’s choice of her. But then she proceeds to glorify God for what He is doing through her for His people! She takes the focus off herself and sets it upon God’s activity. She praises Him for (1.) His mercy to those who respect and revere Him; (2.) His past works of power; (3.) His surprising, unexpected propensity to reverse worldly fortunes: The lowly are raised up, while the lofty are brought low; the hungry are fed while the well fed are not. (4.) His fulfillment of His promises (going back to Genesis 12 and 22) to Israel: A king from the lineage of David, and a Messiah who will bless all nations on earth.

Love was born at Christmas: Christ Jesus, God’s gift of love and salvation to the world. Love was carried for us by a poor young woman of amazing faith, strength, and humility. Love was demonstrated for us by Jesus’ willingness to atone (take on the penalty) for our sins. Love was also revealed for us in Mary’s attitudes toward God. As we approach Christmas Day, let us take our focus off ourselves and place it where it best belongs…On our worship of the Godhead, the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Love all lovely, love divine!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Filled Back Up

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 31, 2021

Scriptures: Ruth 1:1-18; Ps 146; Heb 9:11-14; Mk 12:28-34

This morning, we encounter as our Old Testament lesson, the lovely story of the friendship of Ruth and Naomi. (Various verses from the book of Ruth are often quoted at weddings.) The context is provided right off the bat, in the first verse in the days that the Judges ruled…. This means it was after the Israelites had entered the Land of Promise, and after the death of Joshua, Moses’ successor. It was a very dark period of Hebrew history (1380-1050BC). It was dark because, just a few generations after entering the Land—and after 40 years of wandering in the desert, and after seeing God’s signs and wonders—another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what He had done for Israel. Then the Isaelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals (Judges 2:10-11).

In other words, they would sin mightily against all the commandments, but especially the first 4. They rejected God and got involved in idolatry (Baal worship=spiritual adultery). God would then say, OK, have it your way…(Ro 1:28-29) Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity (sins against the last 6 commandments). God would then also remove His hand of protection from around them: He would allow Moabites to terrorize them; the Amalekites, Ammonites, or Philistines to subjugate them; the Midianites to raid them and cart off their crops, animals, and even their women and children. Sometimes God would not command rain to fall, which resulted in famine. They would then repent, beg for His help, swear again their allegiance to Him, and He would graciously rescue them. This would happen in about 40 year cycles, time for one generation to die off and be replaced by another.

When the story of Ruth begins, God has allowed a famine in the land. Scripture tells us that famine, locusts, or plagues are evidence of God’s judgment! So what should have been Israel’s response? 2 Chronicles 7:14 If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Even if they did not yet have 2 Chronicles to read, they had the 40 year cycles playing out in the book of Judges. The lesson, again and again, is Repent, pray, ask for God’s mercy.

Naomi and her family lived in Bethlehem in Judah, which means house of food/bread; in Judah which means praise. But, unfortunately, Naomi’s husband Elimelech (my God is King) decides not to repent, pray, and ask for God’s mercy, but rather to leave and head to Moab. YIKES! Understand that Elimelech leaves God’s protection and provision to move in with Israelite enemies/God’s enemies. He leaves the house of bread, in the region of praise, choosing not to wait on a miracle from God, but to leave the covenant community of Israel, and trust in his own resources; to do as he saw fit. He moves his family to the land of the Moabites, who were descended from Lot, born of incest. In Psalm 108:9, God says, Moab is my washpot garbage can. Willful Elimelech leaves the house of bread for the garbage can.

He takes with him Naomi (pleasant; Merry Sunshine!) and their two sons, Mahlon (sickly; weakling;) and Kilion (puny). Because of this fateful and foolish move, Naomi is reduced from fullness to emptiness: With 2 sons and a husband, Naomi leaves Bethlehem feeling “Full.” But, during their sojourn in Moab, she begins to empty. She has no additional children; her husband, Elimelech, dies; her two sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah—who are both lovely and loving, but who appear to be barren. Then, both young men die! Naomi winds up empty in Moab!

What does she decide to do? Like so many of us when life leaves us frustrated and alone, we either strike out for a new place/new beginning or we go back home, don’t we? She’s already done the former. So now it’s time to try the latter. She probably thought to herself, When was I last full? In Israel, when I lived among family; in Israel, where I had women friends; in Israel, where I lived under God’s protection. She may have even thought, Maybe the Lord allowed all of this because we didn’t trust Him

Did Naomi repent for having fled from the Promised Land? Did she pray? Did she ask for God’s forgiveness? It doesn’t seem like it because at first she returns to Bethlehem and tells the women there, call me Mara (bitter). Like a lot of us, rather than taking responsibility for being out of God’s will, she blames God for her misfortunes.

But our lesson today points to one benefit she has gained from her sojourn in the garbage pail: Ruth. Through Ruth, God begins to fill Naomi back up:

1.) First, consider Ruth’s character: She is compassionate. She knows Naomi is grieved and depressed, so she puts Naomi’s need for companionship and assistance ahead of her own comforts. This is what St. Paul would later define as agapao, a 1st Corinthians 1 type of love. She is also loyal. Maybe she had experienced first-hand Naomi’s kindnesses to her as a young bride. Perhaps Naomi had consoled her in her childlessness. Maybe Naomi had been very helpful to her during Mahlon’s illness and death. Scripture is silent on these points. Whatever had happened between them, it was enough for Ruth to prefer leaving her own homeland to venture to a land where she might be forever an outcast. I think that tells us she was courageous.

2.) Second, Ruth had become a God-follower, v.16–Your God will be my God…may the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separate you and me. How had that happened? Probably because of Naomi’s example: Naomi tells the women of Bethlehem that she knows God has brought me back empty (Hmmm, that implies she prayed), and to call her Mara. But she seems also to have practiced St. Francis’ (much later advice: Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words. Even if her depression was talking most recently, Ruth had seen the true Naomi, before all of her misfortunes. Maybe God was telling Naomi, through Ruth’s presence, I have blessed you with a true-blue friend!

And that was just the beginning, wasn’t it? If you know the story of Ruth, you know that Naomi still held a deed to a family-owned, but mortgaged, tract of land. God supplies a kinsman redeemer (a foreshadowing of Christ), Boaz, who generously pays off the mortgage and marries Naomi’s foreign daughter-in-law. We know God designed this because there was another fellow in the family who wanted the land, but not Ruth. Also, Boaz, an older guy, was rather amazed that this lovely young woman would desire him over guys her own age.

The childless Ruth bears a son to Boaz, Obed (servant of the Lord.) Obed is the father of Jesse, and the Grandfather of King David. More importantly, we know that Ruth and Boaz establish the line of Jesse of the tribe of Judah, out of which comes the Messiah, Jesus. The Lord fills Naomi back up–just like Job–really beyond anything she can ask or imagine.

Psalm 146 echoes the theme: Verses 5-6 say, Blessed is he [or she] whose help in the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his [her] God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—the Lord, who remains faithful forever. Verses 7-9 almost seem to have been composed for Naomi in particular: He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry…the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down…the Lord…sustains the fatherless and the widow….

Hebrews 9:11-14 exhorts us to trust in Jesus’ saving power. While Naomi and Ruth’s time predated Christ’s by centuries, nevertheless they were redeemed by a prototype of Christ. The writer to the Hebrews wants us to know and to appreciate the fact that the blood Jesus shed to pay the penalty for our sins far surpasses the blood of animals to make atonement for us. Jesus is our Kinsman Redeemer.

Mark 12:28-34 presents us with a lawyer (or teacher of the law) who confesses that loving God and loving our neighbors is more important to God than making burnt offerings (to remove the blot of sin) or sacrifices. Jesus commends him for his wisdom. Love of God—trust in God—and love of people are what most please God.

There are some wonderful lessons for us, given current events as well as our personal dilemmas and calamities:

1.) You may remember from last week, There is no situation I can get into that God cannot get me out of. If we trust in God, we will be all right. Elimelech and Naomi should have trusted in God. They could have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they had humbled themselves, repented, sought God, and prayed. He promises in 2 Chronicles 7:14 to hear, forgive, and heal if we do. However, because God is a redeemer, even though Naomi returned to Bethlehem minus a husband and two sons, she was richer for having a loyal, generous, and loving daughter-in-law. Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David and is included in the lineage of Jesus. Surely Naomi is in heaven rejoicing that that is the case!

2.) I am convinced that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is God’s answer to our personal dilemmas. No matter what be-devils you—health issues, depression or crippling anxiety, family quarrels, money problems, unpleasant situations at work or in the neighborhood—bring all these issues to God’s attention. Repent of your sins. Ask for His help. Trust in His love. Then watch and see what He does.

3.) I am also convinced that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is God’s answer to the trouble our country is in now. We need to confess our sins as a nation, to repent, and to return to our foundational beliefs in God. America was meant to be a “City set on a hill,” an example to the rest of the world of what a country can look like when it is focused on loving God and obeying His will. What we see now is a country that is suffering the consequences of being out of God’s will. He has lifted His hedge of protection from us. We are encountering all manner of troubles because we have walked away from Him. The answer, the antidote, is not to throw more money on our problems, but to return to the God who has purchased us with His own blood! Thanks be God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

True Christian Fellowship

Pastor Sherry’s Message for April 11, 2021

Scriptures: Acts 4:32-35; Ps 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2

            In the early 2000’s, the denomination into which I had been ordained jettisoned Scripture as its foundation.  Those of us who were faithful to the Bible were horrified and decided to meet together—at a large church in Plano, Texas–in an attempt to discern what to do.  As it turned out, the response to the meeting grew so sizeable that they had to move it to the Civic Center in Dallas! At that time, I was serving a large church in Philadelphia.  The Bishop there was a heretic.  He could not say the words of the Creeds because he no longer believed in them.  He would not pray the Lord’s Prayer.  I began to dodge his clergy meetings because he wanted to end each with a celebration of communion to both God and “the goddess.”  YIKES!  This sounded like idolatry to me.   Others went along with it, but I could not.  I realized quickly that my “orthodox beliefs” isolated and marginalized me in that diocese.

Thankfully, my particular parish was Biblically conservative.  They were great folks and I loved serving them.  My boss, however, had by then become both emotionally and spiritually abusive of me.  Knowing the nonbelieving Bishop would like nothing better than to discredit him, I realized I could not look to the Bishop for help.  Here too, in the church I was serving, I felt isolated and alone among the four clergy.

When I expressed a desire to attend the Plano Meeting, my boss wouldn’t permit me to go.  Due to the deterioration in our relationship, I had expected this response.  He changed his mind, however, when I shared with him an email from one of my female seminary professors, urging all ordained women to attend.  Since he had already made plane and hotel reservations for a large contingent from our staff, it was now too late for me to join in with them.  They flew to Dallas with connections through Atlanta; while I made my own arrangements, connecting through Chicago, O’Hare.  Once again, I was feeling lonely and marginalized.

As God would have it, however, there were 2 male pastors aboard whom I got to talk with on our O’Hare layover.  I’d never met them before but I quickly recognized they, too, had been feeling as isolated and alone as I had.

We spent time in the aisle encouraging each other.  When the crew began boarding the connecting passengers, I noticed a significant number of folks in collars.  I watched, amazed, as they poured in. It turned out that many students and faculty I knew from my seminary in Pittsburgh were all on that flight! As they sought their seats, we greeted one another with joy and hugs!  They appeared to be as happy to see me as I was to see them!  I felt like I had come in out of the desert.  I began to weep, realizing how much I had missed the kind of community I had experienced with them in the past.

Even though I was on my way with them to Dallas, I felt like I had come home. I knew in my heart that these were my people.  This was true Christian fellowship!  We were united in our love for Jesus, our love for each other, and our respect and reverence for God’s Holy Word.

This kind of Koinonia or Christian fellowship is the point of our Scripture readings today:

Acts 4:32-35 In these few, short verses, Dr. Luke shares that the post-Resurrection, post-Ascension disciples were operating at a high spiritual levelThey met together daily, speaking of Jesus boldly and openly.  Amazingly—just like the folks I encountered on that Chicago plane–(v.32), All the believers were one in heart and mind.  They were united in their belief that Jesus is Messiah.  And they were determined to tell others the Good News of Salvation.

Additionally—and this is truly amazing—they shared their financial resources with each other, so no one was needy.  Dr. J. Vernon McGee says this probably didn’t last long.  He believes the 1st century Church quickly devolved into normal human selfishness.  But remember, they were initially filled with the Holy Spirit and with great joy.  If I had had much money I would have shared it with those on that plane that day—or at the conference in the 3 days that followed.  We all felt in the grip of something greater than ourselves!  Our prayers, Bible studies led by Rev. Dr. J.I. Packer, and corporate worship–and the unforgettable testimonies we heard–were just sublime!  Like those early disciples, I was just so happy to be there and to be included.

Additionally—and this is truly amazing—they shared their financial resources with each other, so no one was needy.  Dr. J. Vernon McGee says this probably didn’t last long.  He believes the 1st century Church quickly devolved into normal human selfishness.  But remember, they were initially filled with the Holy Spirit and with great joy.  If I had had much money I would have shared it with those on that plane that day—or at the conference in the 3 days that followed.  We all felt in the grip of something greater than ourselves!  Our prayers, Bible studies led by Rev. Dr. J.I. Packer, and corporate worship–and the unforgettable testimonies we heard–were just sublime!  Like those early disciples, I was just so happy to be there and to be included.

Psalm 133 was written by King David.  It is often referred to as a “Song of Brotherhood.”  David compares true, God-centered fellowship to abundant oil and to life-giving water. The precious oil that anointed the first High Priest, Aaron, setting him apart for ministry at his ordination ceremony, flowed extravagantly down his head to his beard, spilling over his collar.  To our modern ears, this sounds like a mess.  But the point is that the oil of blessing was extravagant.  Similarly, the water that begins as dew on the highest mountain peak in Israel, and then eventually flows down to the Jordan River, brings life-preserving moisture to an arid land.  God, through King David, is saying that Christian fellowship can and should be abundant and life-giving.

The 1st heresy arose out of Gnosticism, in about 67AD, just after the death of Paul.  It derived from Greek philosophy (the predominant belief system of the Roman world).  Anything spirit was considered good;but matter/the body/the material world were all thought to be bad.  So they reasoned that Jesus could not have been fully human.  For God, Spirit, Divinity to dwell within a human body was to them unthinkable. This belief left them in a terrible dilemma:  Christianity says Jesus was fully God and fully man.  But they didn’t believe God could or would tolerate being a person.  John is writing to tell the church congregations of the day that this Greek philosophy was an error, a heresy!

The Church stands firm in its belief that Jesus Christ was both fully man and fully God.  In verses 1-2, John reminds us he was an eye-witnessàThat which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  He is both asserting Jesus’ humanity and referencing the beginning of his GospelàIn the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  John is making it very clear that Jesus was/is God (divine); and that Jesus was really human—after all, John and the others saw Him, heard Him, looked upon and touched Him.

John was also determined to show us how to enjoy true fellowship with God (and with our fellow believers).   Jesus Christ has reconciled us to God through His death and resurrection.  But because we are sinners, or as AA says, “we are all bozos on the bus,” we are going to break relationship with Him and with others from time to time.  We do what we know we shouldn’t.  And we fail to do what we know we should. So, what’s going to get us back into right relationship with God?

John begins to tell us how in verse 5-7 God is light.  In Him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with Him [the Father] yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.  God knows we are going to succumb to the enticements of the world, our flesh, and the devil, from time to time.  But here is the antidote to sin: Honesty and ForgivenessàWe need to honestly take stock of our sins; v.8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  It’s a good practice to daily make a list of where we have fallen short of the glory of God; then check it twice.  AA calls this the 4th stepàWe make a searching and fearless moral inventory.  We bring our sins into the Light of Christ.

Then, v.9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness.  Folks, this is great, Good News! When we fall out of fellowship with God, we just need to quietly and privately tell God we are sorry for having offended Him.

And what happens when we do?  (1) He forgives us!  (2.) Then He purifies us!

So then, John, ever the Pastor says in Chapter 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have One who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.   There is no sin any of us has committed that is too great to be forgiven!  Additionally, John goes on to remind us, we have an Advocate at the throne of the Father in Heaven.

Like a great defense attorney, Jesus Himself pleads our case.  He took our sinfulness at the Cross upon Himself and traded us His righteousness.  Thanks to Jesus, the Father sees us through the lens of Christ.

So how do we live into Christian Fellowship?  We recognize our great need for it. 

If you don’t have it, you can feel spiritually dry, isolated, and marginalized and even depressed.  The church I served in Philly was a wonderful body of believers; but because of my abusive boss and unbelieving Bishop, I felt alone, like I was wilting there.  The plane trip from O’Hare and the Plano Meeting helped me realize the importance of true Christian fellowship to my spiritual and emotional health.

But if you have it, you know you are loved and that you belong to a community of like-minded persons. These people are glad to see you! These folks miss you when you are absent from them, and you miss them as well.

I think we can all thank God for the fellowship we enjoy here at WUMC!  This is a body of believers who loves Jesus and who loves one another.  Let’s hold onto this and continue to live this out.  Thanks be to God for drawing us into koinonia through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Alleluia, alleluia!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Using Our Talents

Pastor Sherry’s Message for November 15, 2020

Scriptures: Judges 4:1-7; Matt 25:14-30

A pastor friend tells the story of his brother, Tony, and their elderly Aunt Mildred.  Aunt Mildred was getting along in years, so the two brothers bought her a motorized recliner.  You know the kind, it pushes you up and out of the chair so you don’t have to struggle to stand.  Soon after gifting her, Tony went to see how Mildred liked her new chair.  “Tony,” she says, “I’m having a lot of trouble getting out of my chair.”  Puzzled, Tony replied helpfully, “Let me check on the motor.”  Mildred then told him, “Well, that won’t do no good.  I never plug it in!”  Dumbfounded, Tony asked, “Well, whyever not?”  To which Aunt Mildred replied, “Well, what if the power goes out whilst I was a-laying back in it?  I wouldn’t never be able to get out of it!”  I love this story because it demonstrates so well how fear, and a lack of faith, can prevent us from using the blessings, the “talents,” God has given us.

Our OT and Gospel lessons today give us two examples of what God thinks of those who do not trust in Him enough to utilize the talents He has given us for building up His Kingdom. In our OT lesson, we have the only example of a woman called to lead the nation of Israel, Deborah the Prophetess.  She was called and equipped by God to lead during the time of the Judges.

The backstory is that Joshua has died at 110 years of age without a follow-up human leader.  The Israelites had not yet been governed by a king.  Their leader, to date, had been a man like Moses or Joshua, selected  and directed by God)   Even though the people promised Joshua three times (recall our OT passage from last week), they would remain obedient to God, within 40 years, they had taken up idolatry and forsaken the LORD.  As a result, the Lord would then allow a Canaanite people—Amorites, Amonites, Moabites, Midianites, or even Philistines—to oppress them.  They would then call out to the LORD for help.  He would reply by raising up a judge to lead them in defeating their enemy.  They would thank and praise Him.  But, shortly, once the threat was over, they would again forget about their loyalty to God.  And the 40 year cycle would begin all over again.  Deborah, a woman, was the 3rd such judge God provided.

Who was she?  She only takes up two chapters of Scripture in which we learn the following about her:

            1.) She was a wife to Lippidoth.  We know nothing of him, except that he seemed to have recognized God’s call on his wife’s life; and he did not appear to resent her influence or power. 

2.) She was “a mother of Israel,” out of the tribe of Ephraim.  While this may imply she had children of her own—if so they are not mentioned in Scripture–it certainly means she nurtured and cared for the nation.

            3) She was a wise counselor.  People came from miles away to seek her wisdom and advice.

            4.) She was a renowned judge like Judge Judy, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, or Judge Jannine Pirow.  Instead of sitting at the city gates to hear cases, verse 5  tells us she sat beneath a palm tree named for Her–the Palm of Deborah–located between Ramah and Bethel.

            5) She was a legitimate prophetess.  Like her male counterparts, she was anointed by God, who told her what to say to His people.  She conveyed God’s words to the people and she foretold events accurately.

            6.) We learn in today’s passage that she was a warrior.

            7.) She was also a poet.  She wrote a song/psalm, describing what God accomplished through her leadership—in Judges chapter 5.

            8.) Finally, she was a woman who loved and trusted God.

Notice, she had many gifts/talents.  What did she do with them?  The Canaanite King Jabin had oppressed the Israelites for 20 years. He terrorized them with 900 iron chariots/horses, and an able-bodied general named Sisera.  During this oppressive time, Jabin confiscated all the Israelites’ iron weapons.  The people call out to God for help, and God tells Deborah to send for General Barak of the tribe of Naphtali.  She did and told Barak that God intended for him to lead the people into battle against Sisera.  In V.6 she says to Barak, The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulon and lead the way to Mount Tabor.  I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.

Deborah knows that God is going to give Gen. Barak the victory.  The General doesn’t see how—he lacks faith in God.  His citizen army is outnumbered 10 to 1, and Sisera’s army is much better equipped.  He must have felt like Deborah was essentially telling him to prepare for his death.  He does eventually agree to go as directed, but only if the prophetess will go with him.  Is he afraid?  Or is he simply clear that he needs the counsel of the one who hears from God?  Since he doesn’t really seem to trust her or God etirely, she tells him God will give the victory (over Gen. Sisera) to another woman (Jael, the wife of a weapons maker).

Judges, chapter 5, is called Deborah’s Song:  Some Biblical scholars call it “one of the oldest and finest pieces of Hebrew poetry.”  In it, Deborah gives God the glory for their victory.  Deborah walked in faith to free her people from oppression.  She used her gifts of leadership to direct the Israelites into battle, despite overwhelming odds and the prevailing customs for women of the time.  Because of her obedience, God gave Israel another 40 years of freedom and peace.

In our Gospel lesson, Matthew 15:14-30, Jesus provides examples of two who utilize their talents for God and one who does not.  In His parable,the master (probably God) leaves his assets in the hands of threestewards/servants (believers).  He appears to have doled out his assets according to the degree to which He trusts in their abilities and their motivation.  One very able fellow gets 5 talentsàA talent back then was equal to 1 years’ wages; for the purpose of illustration, let’s say a years’ wages were $30,000.  That would mean this 1st guy has been entrusted with 5 times that or $150,000.  The next gets 2 talents, or $60,000;and the 3rd gets 1, or $30,000.

When the Master returns, He expects them to account for how they invested His money during His absence.  The fellow who had 5 talents invested them wisely and wound up earning double or $300,000!  The guy with 2 also invested wisely and doubled his earnings, netting $120,000.  The faithless guy hid his 1 talent, so he gained nothing.  Although he was honest and returned the $30,000 in tact, the master was angry because he could have at least deposited it somewhere and earned interest on it.  The Master commends the first two dudes, but He has nothing but contempt for the third.  This guy was either so lazy as to not use the talents at all.  Or perhaps like Aunt Mildred, he was too afraid to fail, so he did nothing (safe but unproductive).  This guy then gets thrown into the outer darkness, (v.30)…where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth—not a pleasant place!

This is not a story about investing money wisely.  It is about utilizing the skills and the ministry gifts we have been given to build up God’s Kingdom.  Notice, all are called to account—this is the “White Throne Judgment” at the end of time:  Those who have used their gifts are blessed now and in the afterlife; while those who have not are chastised and punished.  Those of us who believe in Jesus Christ will be clothed in His righteousness, so we will not be reminded of all of our sins in this judgment scene.  Instead, we will probably be asked how we did at loving God and others (The Great Commandment), and whether or not we used our talents and gifts to benefit God’s Kingdom (The Great Commission).

So what is the point for us today?  God uses people who trust in Him.

Do you trust God?  Are you willing to be obedient to Him, even when the situation seems difficult or impossible?  If He can use an unarmed army to defeat a vastly superior force, He can master any situation we bring before Him.  God expects us to use the talents He has given us to bless others.  Are we doing that?  May it be so!

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Primacy of Love

Pastor Sherry’s Message for October 25, 2020

Scriptures: Matt. 22:34-46; Deut 34:1-12; Ps 90:1-6, 13-17; 1 Thes. 2:1-8

You hear a lot of talk today about people who claim they are spiritual but are not really interested in committing to Jesus. I hear this from the young people who spend 30-60 days at Honey Lake Clinic. They come in admitting they have tried everything they know to help themselves overcome their addictions, or their hopeless depressions, or their paralyzing anxieties. Through the testimonies and examples of staff, we tend to be able to convince them that Jesus loves them and is able to heal them. Where we have less success is in persuading them to join a body of believers–to support their newfound faith–when they return home. You see, they can believe Jesus loves them, but they doubt they will experience love from His body, the Church.

They look around at us and say, “Hypocrites!”   Unfortunately, they see us as judgmental, critical of them and of their lifestyles.  Sometimes I think they are so sure we will reject them that they reject us first.  While we may be able to win them over to our God because He loves them and wants to heal & bless them—even though they cannot see Him, we do much less well at talking them into getting involved with other followers of Christ—who they can see.

Remember last week I encouraged us to pray for those political persons we find ourselves hating or at least severely disliking.  This is tough to do, isn’t it?  It’s not our natural inclination. We’d rather hold onto our resentments and our anger.  This is exactly what nonbelievers hold against us.  I have shared with you before that G.K. Chesterton, the noted British writer, said 100 years ago, Jesus…tells us to love our neighbors.  Elsewhere the Bible tells us Jesus said we should love our enemies.  This is because, generally speaking, they are the same people.

So, how exactly do we go about loving the seeminglyunlovable?  Those who have offended us or harmed us?  Our lessons today speak to this point:

First of all, Jesus instructs us on the primacy of love in Matthew 22:34-46The Pharisees are now colluding with the Sadducees to try to trap Jesus.  This is like a coalition of conservative Republicans and Green New Deal Democrats, a very unlikely coalition.  An expert in the Law asks Jesus (v.36), Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?  Now bear in mind they taught there were as many as 613 commandments, the original 10 plus others.  Hoping to trip Him up, the Pharisee is saying “What’s the most important one?  Give me the bottom line.  What’s our takeaway?  Come on, Man, let’s cut to the chase (and bear in mind that we will make a huge deal of the ones You omit!)   

So Jesus, who is great at getting to the bottom line, says two things matter most in this life.   Citing Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, Jesus ties them together as the greatest commandment.  Deuteronomy 6:5àLove the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  And Leviticus 19:18àlove your neighbor as yourself.  We tend to believe these two laws were created by Christ, but God the Father set them out early on in the Torah.

Then Jesus politely shuts them up by tossing them a riddle from Psalm 110:  If the Messiah is David’s son (descendant), how can He also be David’s master?  This is for them an unanswerable question, somewhat like, Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?  From this side of the Cross, we know the answer is “Jesus is Lord of all,” including King David.  What the observing crowd understands is that Jesus has bested them—again–at their own game.

 As Christ followers, we are to love God above all things, and love our neighbors—even the ones we don’t like– as ourselves.  This means we are to begin with a healthy love for ourselves.  I’m not talking about an arrogant or narcissistic self-love, nor do I mean a self-love so self-effacing as to appear we hate or loath ourselves.  As they say in Live Oak, Florida, “You can’t get back from where you ain’t been! “  We have to love ourselves in order to be able to love others.  Jesus is saying, we are to love God and others because God the Father has commanded us to do so.  We are to love God and others because Jesus seconded the motion. 

Finally, we are to love God and others because this is what wins the world to Christ!  Remember in world-wide plagues in the late 100’s and late 200’s, the Church grew because Christians remained to help nurse those who were sick, while other religious and political leaders headed to the hills to save themselves.  Christians also rescued infants abandoned on the city trash-heaps and raised them.  Their pagan neighbors were so impressed by the selfless love involved in both actions that they decided to become Christ-followers themselves.

Now, let’s look at our other Scripture lessons to see if there are hints as to how we demonstrate the primacy of love:

Deuteronomy 43:1-12  describes the death of Moses, at 120 years old.

Some scholars say this final chapter ought to be the first chapter of Joshua.  We know that Moses wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—the Torah (Law); but how could he write this last chapter describing his own death?  Perhaps Moses was being prophetic?  Or maybe his successor, Joshua—who was not there—recorded what God told him about the event.  Afterall, verse 9 says Joshua was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid hands on him.

Verse 6 tells us, He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is.  Who is the HE who accomplished the burial?  God.   God the Father probably had His angels perform it, while He presided—what a funeral!   Some scholars say, He [Moses] died by a kiss of God.  The Israelites then honored Moses by grieving for him for 30 days.

Why did God see to his burial?   Verse 10 tells us, Since then [until Jesus], no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.

Because Moses loved God and served God, our God was with him until the end of his life and appears to have ushered him into the one beyond.  I believe that If we love and serve Him with this kind of dedication, He will welcome us too into eternity with open arms!

            Psalm 90:1-6, 13-1 7 tells us that grasping the concept of eternity is really beyond the capacity of our earthly intellect.  Seriously, think about it for long and it will give you a headache.  Same result if we try to understand how God always was, is now, and will be forever.  Moses wrote this Psalm in about 1400 BC.

Now, having shepherded the children of Israel out of Egypt (1-2 million of them), and learning from God that none of them (except Joshua and Caleb) would enter the Promised Land—due to lack of trust in God to help them conquer the tribes living there—I think it is safe to say that Moses attended a lot of funerals!

He has, as a result, written a Psalm of death.  He lived to be 120, and yet he refers to how brief life is:  He says our lives are like a watch in the night (v.4);  like the new grass of the morning—though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered (vv.5-6).  Then he compares our lifespans with God’s: (V.2) …from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.  Literally, in the Hebrew, that means, from vanishing point to vanishing point; from east to west or from the past into the future.  In other words,

                                   [1] Before time was, God is;

                                    [2] When time shall be no more, God still is.

                                    [3] God never was;

                                    [4] There is never a time when God will be;

                                    [5] God simply is (I am who I am).

So, in light of God’s eternity, Moses asks God to (v.12) Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  Moses is urging us to remember that we are mortal, and that we make our days count by demonstrating/living out God’s love to others.

            1 Thessalonians 2:1-8àWe make our days count by sharing the Gospel with others.  Sometimes we do this with our words.  But, perhaps more powerfully, we do this by our actions.   Paul says he did not come to the Thessalonians out of self-serving motives, or to earn money.  He did not minister among them to gather prestige, honor, or position.  He came to them out of his love for Christ and Christ’s love for them.  That’s how we make our days count.

We do what God has put before us to do, out of love for Christ and for His people.

God’s View of what’s crucial in this life ought to be ours, right?

The upcoming election next week is certainly very important. However, it is not as important as loving God and loving others.  This week, let’s try to be aware of being a good example of a Christian.  If non-believers were watching you or watching me, would they want to become a follower of Jesus Christ?

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

What is Love?

Pastor Sherry’s message for September 6, 2020

Scripture: Exodus 12:1-14

The story is told of an old granny lady who had decided that Christmas shopping had just gotten to be too much for her.  Now she still wanted to do something nice for her kids, grands, nieces, nephews, etc., so she decided to send each a nice Christmas card with a $50 Visa card inside.   Granny selected the Christmas cards, addressed the envelopes, added stamps, and deposited them at the post office, innocently assuming she had taken care of Christmas gifts for all of her family in a way that could not help but please each one.  The problem, however, was that–being a little forgetful–she had neglected to include the Visa cards (probably also forgot where she had put them), and had happily written next to her signature, “Merry Christmas!  Go get your own presents.”   We laugh, but this could all too easily be any one of us!  The intention was love, but the result was not.

When I was in college, my school had a foreign language requirement. There were 3 prerequisites:  (1) You had to be able to read it; (2) You had to know the grammar, correct sentence structure, and vocabulary; (3) And then you had to demonstrate you could speak it by passing an interview with the foreign language department professors.

I managed to make it through the first courses, but put the speaking part off until my Senior year…YIKES!  The first day of class, a stereotypical French woman came into class (complete with beret, tight slim skirt with side split, fishnet stockings, and spiked heels), propped herself on the teacher’s desk, told us we could not speak English for the remainder of the semester, and asked us, in French, to respond to the question, “What is love?”  Before I had even begun to formulate an answer in English, then could laboriously translate it into French, she had gone on to the next deep question.  I knew my goose was cooked! 

Praise God I survived conversational French because I paid a linguistically brilliant underclassman to tutor me.  I paid him with coffee and a piece of pie (this was 1967 and he was hungry) to talk with me in French for an hour 2-3 times a week.  By the time he finished with me, I was thinking and dreaming in French!

But I have never forgotten that French professor’s question, “What is love?”  Our Scriptures today give us some good answers to that timeless question.  Our Old Testament lesson comes from Exodus 12:1-14.  Back in Ex 3:7+, God had told Moses:  “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.  That was God’s promise…He would create the situation that would compel the stubborn Pharaoh to let His people go.  Now the Hebrews had been in Egypt about 400 years—long enough for the Canaanites to have time to come to love the true God, which they never did.  So God was finally ready to rescue the Israelites from Egyptian slavery with 10 plagues.

Each plague was actually a put down of some Egyptian god.  Yahweh had declared war on the gods of Egypt:

(1)1st, He turned the Nile to blood—the fish died and no one could drink from it.  They so depended on the river for their water supply and commerce that they equated it with life.  God was saying to them, I, not your river god, am the source of all life.

  • 2nd, He sent a superabundance of frogs.  Seven days after turning the Nile to blood, frogs left the polluted river and invaded the Egyptian homes in huge numbers.  Now the Egyptians equated frogs with evil spirits.  God was saying to them, I can produce animal pests and your numerous gods of nature cannot prevent this.
  •   Similarly, out of dust Moses tosses into the air, God produces 3rd, a plague of lice and 4th, of biting flies.  Essentially God is asking Pharaoh and the Egyptians, Why aren’t your gods countering and destroying these pests? They aren’t able to do what I can do.
  • 5th, God sends disease on their cattle, rams, sheep, and goats, many of which die.  The Egyptians had gods for each of these animals.  But God is saying, I have complete control over animal life, not Osirus, your bull god, or Apis your ram god.
  • 6th, He afflicted the animals that remained—and the people as well–with boils.  Even Pharaoh’s magicians couldn’t prevent breaking out with them. God is saying only I have power over physical health.
  • 7th, He sends hail made of ice clumps and fire.  Egypt normally gets very little rain and fire is a sign of God’s judgment.  Thus God is saying, I—not Hephaistos, your god of fire or Porphry, your god of rain—have complete authority over forces of nature.
  • 8th, God sends locusts to eat up any vegetation left over, then sends them to drown in the Red Sea.  Egypt’s gods of nature are helpless to prevent this infestation.  God is saying, I can raise up hordes of any creature and I can destroy them as I will.
  • By now, the Egyptian economy is in ruins, but still Pharaoh will not let his slave labor go free.  God then sends the 9th plague, 3 days of complete darkness—except over where the Israelites live.  God is saying, Your sun god, Re, is powerless before Me.
  • Finally, God sends the 10th plague–the death of the firstborn, person and animal. They believed their god, Horus, was the god of life.  They also believed Pharaoh was divine. God is saying, Not so fast, My Friend!  Yahweh is the giver of life and He can take it away when it is in rebellion against Him.

This brings us to the Passover:  God intends to take the life of every 1st born.  Those who love Him, however, can and will be spared.

They are to select a perfect male lamb less than 1 year old; they are then to slaughter it on the 14th of Nisan; and paint their door frames with its blood.

The blood of the lamb will be the sign that they are true believers and their lives will be spared. They were to remain inside their homes, eating the roasted lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. This was a hasty meal that predated “take out.”  It meant that they would soon be free to travel.  The first born of those with no blood over their doors succumbed to the angel of death.  By the next morning, all of Egypt wanted the Israelites to be gone!

This is love!  God provided a way for the angel of death to distinguish Israelites from Egyptians.  While every house in Egypt had a dead person in it, the blood of the Lamb signaled to death, pass over, pass on by those who love the true Lord of all.  This event broke the back of Pharaoh’s resistance.  He finally decided let the God’s people go.  And the Egyptians were so glad to see them leave that they gifted them with gold and silver (God’s provision of reparations/back wages owed).

The historic Jewish Passover finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus—it foreshadows or predicts Jesus’ blood shed for us on the Cross.  He too was a perfect male lamb–John the Baptist calls Him (John1:29)…the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.  Jesus was without sin.  If He had sinned, He would not have been eligible to be our sinless Substitute, our Savior.  Furthermore, He was God, the only Son of God, so His blood was essentially the blood of God.  Paul tells the leaders of the Ephesian Church in Acts 20:28àBe shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood.No mere person would have been capable of atoning for our sins.  Additionally, Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf was totally acceptable to His Father.  The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus is the once and for all perfect sacrifice for our sins.  Peter, on trial before the Sanhedrin, testifies in Acts 4:12 that Salvation is found in no one else [meaning Jesus] for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.  John tells us in 1 John 3: This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.

So what is love?  The 10 plagues and the Passover formed God’s strategy for motivating a despot to let go of a free labor force of around 2 million people.  The plagues and the Passover demonstrate how far God will go to redeem those He loves.  Jesus’ death on the cross proves the same truth again:  Our God has died an undeserved but agonizing death to obtain our freedom from sin and mortality.  Like His Father before Him, He has gone to extreme lengths to redeem us.

As the apostle John tells us, (1 John 4:10)–this is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  If I could go back in time, I would tell my French Conversation professor, “Your question can be answered a number of ways…But the best and most complete answer to that is Jesus Christ loves me and you so much that He died so you and I could have abundant life!

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

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams