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

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

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

Nursing Grudges

Pastor Sherry’s message for August/8/2021,

 Scriptures: 2 Sam 18:1-33; Ps 130; Eph 4:25-5:2; Jn 6:35, 41-51

    When I studied the readings for this Sunday, I realized pretty quickly that our Lord was speaking to me.  As a friend of mine from Tallahassee would say, “He had His thumb on my spine!”  You know that happens to us when we hear the Scripture passages read on Sunday, or there is something in the sermon that seems directly meant for me/us.  Back in the mid-80’s, when I was just coming to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it was hard to get myself to church on Sundays.  It was my only morning to sleep in.  But, often, when I would make myself go anyway, there was always something that spoke directly to me.  I realized that Satan tries to keep us from church.  The very time we think we just can’t go is the exact time that God has something special for us to hear or to learn.

    In our Old Testament lesson, 2 Sam 18:5-33, God really spoke to me this week, so I want to spend our time together this morning examining it.  This is one of those passages where the LORD does not sugar-coat the truth.  We see David, a man after God’s own heart, a mighty warrior and a great King, as a very imperfect father.    The context of the reading is Civil War.  Our passage opens with King David telling his army commanders to take it easy with the young man Absalom.  Why? What’s the deal? To find out we have to hit rewind:

    Some years prior, Amnon, the eldest of David’s sons, (born to David’s 3rd wife, Ahimnoan) raped his half-sister, the beautiful Tamar.  David was angry about this, but did not avenge Tamar.  (The patriarch, Jacob/Israel was going to allow the rapist of his daughter to marry her.)  This enraged his sons who then perpetrated vigilante justice toward the guy.  We don’t know why these two fathers did not bring their daughter’s rapists to justice.  Perhaps King David was still feeling guilty about his own sexual immorality with Bathsheba.  Perhaps he thought, “Who am I to punish him for actions I also took?”  Or maybe he realized this is part of the playing out of the consequences of his past sin:  The prophet Nathan had told him—even though God had forgiven him– Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house (2 Samuel 12:10).  Or perhaps David feared taking any punishing action would bring about some sort of bloodshed.  So, even though he could have insisted Amnon marry Tamar, David did not.  This apparent inability of King David to discipline his wayward son incensed Absalom, Tamar’s full brother (both children of David’s 4th wife, Maaca).  Absalom plotted revenge against Amnon—slyly, covertly– for 2 years.  He did not have the teaching of Paul in our Ephesians 4:26-27 lesson to guide him:  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry; and do not give the devil a foothold.  So he invited Amnon, together with his father’s other sons, to a sheep-shearing festival at his country home.  Absalom got Amnon drunk, then had him killed.  Now, just as David had Uriah killed so he could marry the pregnant Bathsheba, David must realize Absalom’s murder of his eldest son mirrors his own homicidal act.

     Knowing he has committed murder, punishable by death, Absalom hits the road and is separated—in exile– from his father for 3 years.  Scripture tells us that, all that time, David longed to see Absalom and mourned his absence (2 Samuel 13).  Curiously, though, he does not send for him.  Absalom is as good as banished.  David has now lost his 2 eldest sons-1 dead, one exiled. 

    in a complicated maneuver, Joab, David’s cousin and general, manipulates David into calling his Absolom home (2 Samuel 14).  David agrees, but does not allow Absalom into his presence.  Another 2 years go by and Absalom grows embarrassed, embittered.  Again, he has a long time to nurse a grudge against his father.   

    Notice that David is uncharacteristically unforgiving!  God has forgiven him of massive sins, but he has taken and nursed an offense toward his son.  The King has to be urged by his cousin to recall Absalom to Jerusalem.  Then, 2 years later, he has to be again urged by his cousin to reconcile with his son.

    So, 5 years after Absalom has killed Amnon (7 years after the rape of Absalom’s sister), David finally summons him.  He greets him with a kiss, but it is too little, too late.  The damage to their relationship has been compounded.  Many cultures in the ancient Near East then, as now, were “Shame-based cultures” (Honor bound).  A son, even a prince, did not shame his father.  By taking a father’s right to discipline Amnon, Absalom has shamed the King.  David had exhibited his corresponding displeasure by not inviting his son back home.  Contrast this with God’s example in the Prodigal Son story.  Privately David loves him and misses him, but publically his pride has taken a hit, and he harbors an offense against Absalom—he nurses a grudge.  He has built up a wall in his heart.  He has emotionally abandoned his son.

    For his part, Absolom is no better.  After having been exiled for 3 years, then waiting on his father to invite him back into his presence another 2, Absalom has grown embittered.  Like Father, like son.  He too has registered a hit to the pride, to the heart.  He too has taken offense and held onto it.  He too has established walls in his heart against his father.  From there, it’s a simple step to betraying his father.

    So Chapter 15 describes how he campaigns—over the next 4 years–to win over his countrymen.  He was exceedingly handsome, and we know from very robust Social Psychology research, that “pretty people” are often thought of more highly than they may actually deserve.  Though he had slain his ½ brother at his own table (a huge violation of ancient Near Eastern hospitality rules), he is now nice as can be to everyone.  It’s a presidential campaign!  He is kissing babies, promising tax cuts, and making promises he has no intention of keeping.  If he had had TV, he would have been giving interviews on cable news, and funding political ads, trying to displace his aging father in the public eye.  Then, before David even suspects what is happening, Absalom launches a coup.  And so we find ourselves in the current chapter:  Civil War, between father and son!

    David, the seasoned warrior, flees the city.  He has his experienced and loyal, professional army with him (like our Navy Seals, Special Forces, or trained military snipers).  They beg David not to go to battle with them due to his age (mid-50’s or 60’s?); they fear that if he were captured, it would mean certain defeat.  So David sees them off and asks them to spare the life of Absalom.

    But Absalom is not a warrior (he is instead a shrewd politico). He takes time to call in Israelite citizens to bear arms in his name.  These may be like our national guard, having some training, but lacking the experience of life-long soldiers.  The armies encounter each other in a large forest—never a good place for a battle.  Trees, hills, cliffs, and lakes appear to have impeded troop movements.  David’s veterans overcome the larger, inexperienced forces.  Absalom may have been trying to retreat, when his marvelous hair entraps him (He was known for his good looks and his long, thick, beautiful hair).  Even though Joab, David’s cousin (Absolom’s 2nd cousin), had been told to capture, not kill the rebel prince, Joab kills him anyway and buries his body in a pit.  Perhaps Joab reasoned that Absalom’s implacable hate would never soften into forgiveness, and that he would always present a threat to David’s throne.  Whatever his reason, he ruthlessly brings a sad chapter to an end:  A second cousin kills a second cousin; the predicted sword has clearly become embedded in David’s house.

    All that is left now is the duty of telling the king.  In an strange little sidebar, two men compete to bring the news.  Oddly, the priest’s son, Ahimaaz—a speedy runner—wants to bring David the bad news.  But cousin Joab insists on sending a foreign slave, a nimble, fleet-footed Ethiopian.  Ahimaaz beats the Cushite to David, but finds he cannot tell the King his son is dead; neither really can the slave.  They both answer the King obliquely, but David guesses the truth.  David is bereft!  Oh my son, Absalom!  My son, my son, Absalom!  Many commentators call this the most moving scene of a father’s grief in all of literature!  David’s heart appears to be broken.  In spite of all that Absalom had done to hurt him, in spite of having to again flee from a rival king set on killing him, David grieves the loss of his son.

    What might God be saying to us today through this ancient account?  

    1.) What do we do when people we care about take offense?  We cannot hang on to offenses, nurse grudges, or harbor hurt feelings.  They expand over time.  As we see in this account, they harden into bitterness.  They shrivel our hearts and separate us from God.  We must recognize and take responsibility for our own sins of pride—who are we to hold onto resentments when Jesus Christ forgave His murderers from the Cross?  We must forgive the offense, pray for the person who offended us, and attempt to make amends.  From the perspective of time and distance, we can see where either Absalom or David could have mended the breach.

           2.) Isn’t it true that we reap what we sow?  David killed a man so he could have that man’s wife.  In the very next generation one son is sexually immoral, ravaging a woman who was not his wife.  The second son kills the first.  God forgives us of our sins—if we just humble ourselves and ask it of Him.  But He often lets us live with the fruit/the consequences of our mistakes, either in our own lives, or in our children’s or grandchildren’s generations.

3.) Forgive, before it’s too late. I picture King David wailing, keening his grief, sobbing with regret, wishing he had handled Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom differently–three children’s lives ruined. David must have been so sorry that he had not been as competent a father as he had been a king. What if he had sought out God in his parenting, as he did in so many other facets of his life? In Psalm 130:1 the psalmist laments, Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. In parenting, in all things, let us call upon the Lord…for wisdom to respond to our children in a righteous way; for assistance in not taking offense (or holding onto one); and for the grace to forgive as we have been forgiven. Amen! May it be so.

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Respect and Grace, Not Revenge.

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 27, 2021

Scriptures: 2 Samuel 1:1-27; Psalm 130

We live in a time when we are encouraged to get our revenge on our enemies, political or otherwise. Recently I heard a news commentator, Trey Gowdy, do a monologue on why he prefers sports to politics. (Gowdy used to be a US representative from South Carolina, but did not run for re-election due to his disgust over the corruption he encountered while serving in D.C.) He compared our national situation to a choice between golf, baseball, and professional wrestling: He said that in golf, players call penalties on themselves (The best golfers own their mistakes. No one respects the ones who lie or cheat.). In baseball, all agree to abide by the rulings of an umpire, and we all hope the umpire is fair to both sides. But in professional wrestling, there are no rules; no fairness; the end justifies the means (do whatever it takes to win); the outcome is fixed; and it is less a sport than entertainment.

Gowdy strongly implied that our national government is currently run more like professional wrestling than we might think or want. Political wrongdoers lack the integrity to hold themselves accountable or to admit and apologize for their wrongs. There is no national umpire/referee to enforce the rules fairly. And one’s political ends clearly appear to justify the means.

Nevertheless, Gowdy went on to opine that he has hope for America, due to how we tend to behave in sports:

1.) He reported having seen a woman in pro-golf recently pull for her opponent to sink a crucial putt.

2.) He related how another woman golfer–who had led the tournament only to lose at the end–did not blame others, the course, or her circumstances, but graciously thanked the fans for lifting her spirits.

3.) He shared how the Alabama softball team’s coach responded at the college world series. They interviewed him as his team was losing (This seems like kicking a guy when he is down, but reporters do this all the time). Rather than display anger or a vengeful attitude, the coach praised 2 other coach-peers who were retiring after the series.

The commentator hopes we will, as a nation, respond more like the sportswomen and the coach he referenced and less like politicians who do not congratulate or pull for their opponents; who only appreciate their followers but castigate those who disagree with them; and who blame anyone else for their defeat and desire revenge against their opponents.

A similar story is told about General Robert E. Lee, from about 150 years ago now. It appears that General William Whiting, a confederate peer, loudly and critically criticized Lee behind his back. You might think that Lee would wait for an opportunity to seek revenge upon the man. In fact, an opportunity presented itself one day when President Jefferson Davis summoned Gen. Lee to meet with him. The President asked Lee what he thought of Gen. Whiting. Without hesitation, Lee commended Whiting with high praise for his military abilities. Another officer who was present at the meeting called Lee aside to suggest that he must not be aware of the unkind things Whiting had been saying about him. Lee answered: “I understood that the President desired to know my opinion of Whiting, not Whiting’s opinion of me.” General Robert E. Lee was a man of integrity and a true gentleman—and a personal hero of mine. Lee could have potentially cost Gen. Whiting his career, but chose to take the higher road, instead.

Our Old Testament lesson today (2 Samuel 1:1-27) speaks to how our God wants us to take the higher road as well. The context finds Saul, his sons, and the Israelite army at war once again with the Philistines (about 14-15 years after David had defeated the Philistine champion, Goliath). David, not yet king and trying to maintain some distance from the murderous Saul, has been fighting the Amalakites.

As our passage opens, David has defeated his Amalakite opponents and returned to Ziklag, a town now unknown but reputedly somewhere south of Jerusalem.

It was there that he learned that Saul and Jonathan had been killed at Mt. Gilboa, in southern Galilee (to the north of David). Jonathan, as well as his two brothers, Abinadab, and Malk-Shana, was killed in battle. Saul himself had been seriously wounded but chose to fall on his own sword (to commit suicide) rather than being taken captive by the victorious Philistines.

David is severely grieved at the death of his dear friend Jonathan, but also very distressed at King Saul’s death. He had had 2 opportunities to kill Saul himself but had held off because he knew Saul was “the Lord’s anointed”. 1 Samuel 24:6 The LORD forbid that I should do this thing [kill Saul], to the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed. The Lord had agreed to Saul’s kingship. The people chose him and God had the prophet Samuel anoint him king. David reasoned the Lord would remove kingship from Saul when He, not David, determined. Notice: David waited on the Lord, the theme of our psalm today, Psalm 130.

Saul’s death was a big deal—he was the 1st King of Israel. We might equate his death with another: Back in March of 1991, one of the oldest and largest Redwoods in California died and fell to the ground. Locals called thetree “the Dyerville Giant,” and apparently it still lies where it landed. The tree had been 362 feet tall (the height of a 30-story building). They measured its diameter at 17 feet and its circumference at 52 feet. Experts somehow estimated its weight to exceed one million pounds and believe it was probably 2,000 years old. (My daughter has a degree in forestry and has told me that trees do have a life span. Like us, they grow old and die—no matter how well we water or fertilize them–just as this amazing redwood did.) When the Dyerville Giant hit the ground, people from a mile away said thought they had heard a train wreck. The vibrations were felt 10 miles away, and no doubt some thought they had experienced an earthquake. The death of this tree had a huge physiological impact on many. Additionally, people were touched and saddened at the demise of something so monumental.

But, sadly, in our contemporary view of things, there is no such respect—like for Saul or even for this tree–for those in authority with whom we disagree. We speak badly about them. We dismiss them or hold them in contempt when they fail to meet our expectations, or disappoint our hopes. And, in the extremes of “the cancel culture,” we target them for revenge, even when they are out of power, blasting them and castigating them in the press and on social media; trying to prevent them from getting new jobs, eating lunch peacefully, or just going about their lives; intimidating them with nuisance lawsuits and even threatening their lives.

Notice how David responds to the Amalekite man who brings him Saul’s crown and bracelet. (Obviously this guy does not realize that David has just been battling his own people.) Not understanding David’s godly forbearance for Saul, the guy mistakenly thinks David will reward him for falsely claiming he killed the king. Instead, David has the fellow killed, saying, (v.15)à Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, “I killed the Lord’s anointed.”

Then, David writes a lament which he intends for all the archers in Israel to memorize and recite as they each work on their bows. He expresses his grief:

1.) He curses Mt. Gilboa for being the site of Johnathan’s and Saul’s deaths. I looked this mountain up on the internet and saw where it is to this day only barren rocks and soil. Nothing seems to grow on it, over 3,000 years later.

2.) He praises Saul for the good he did, especially for bringing such prosperity to Israel that women could dress in red cloth (expensive due to dying techniques of that day).

3.) And he mourns for his close friend, Johnathan, who had proven more devoted to him (not in a homosexual way) than had most of his wives—including Johnathan’s sister, Michal, who Saul had given to him in marriage as a reward for killing Goliath.

4.) He seasons the lament with the repeated refrain, How the mighty have fallen! (which reminds me of the tree!)

I must admit, I am not always very respectful of those in power who make what I consider bone-headed decisions for our country, nor am I often kind to sports opponents. I wonder if the Lord is chastening me to be more respectful and grace-filled toward those with whom I disagree. I do believe that we are all called by Christ to offer grace and to respect the rights of those we consider our opponents. That’s part of the Gospel message, isn’t it? We are to love our enemies and pray for them. As Paul says in Romans 12:19-20àDo not take revenge, my Friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge. I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

While our culture may currently resemble professional wrestling, this is not God’s desire for us. This week, let’s try to be like a good golfer and admit our faults and correct our failings on our own. Let’s also remember we do have an eternal, heavenly, perfect umpire/referee who enforces the rules fairly; offers grace and forgiveness to us all; and who doesn’t miss a thing!

In closing, I would ask you to consider the former custom of a prehistoric tribe in New Guinea. When they prepared to confront an enemy tribe in battle, they would preface their attack with what they called “murder songs.” As they sang these songs, they named before their gods the specificpersons they wished to kill. However, once they converted to Christianity, instead of shouting the names any people they hated, they shouted the names of the sins they hated, and called on God to destroy these sins. We could take a lesson from these Paleolithic tribesmen! Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

5

Correct Assessments

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 21, 2021

Scriptures: Jer 31: 31–34; Ps 51: 1–10; Heb 5: 1–10; John 12: 20-33

Do you remember a Scottish woman named Susan Boyle? She appeared on an English TV program called Britain’s Got Talent in 2001. She wowed the skeptical judges with her stunning rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables.

You may remember that she looked fairly frumpy; both the audience and the judges were cynical and dismissive, until she began to sing! Then they were awed and astonished. She has since gone on to improve her appearance and create award-winning albums.

Susan’s story proves the adage that we should not judge a book by its cover. Psychological research on perception says that we tend to size a person up in five seconds. We decided we would or would not like them based on very little information. We take more time than this to buy a car or rent an apartment. This makes it easier for us to quickly move on to other things but it also results in some misperceptions and erroneous assumptions.

Thankfully, our God has much more information on people and events than we do, and never makes some wrong assessment. His assessments are always correct!

Let’s start with our Jeremiah passage. Just prior to the passage, God says through His prophet to the Israelites, I have loved you with an everlasting love. God is foretelling the day when he will call all the Jews who are scattered throughout the world back to Israel. He will make a new covenant with them. Instead of abandoning them due to their unwillingness to except His son as Messiah, He will write his law upon their hearts. Instead of punishing them for turning away from Jesus, He will claim them to Himself again. As Peterson translates it, “they will no longer go about setting up schools to teach each other about God. They’ll know me first hand, the dull and the bright, the smart and the slow. I’ll wipe the slate clean for each of them. I’ll forget they ever sinned.”

We should rightfully expect judgment, but instead we get mercy, grace, forgiveness, and that everlasting love only God radiates. How surprising! How wonderful! How humble and grateful we should be that God assesses us and still desires to be in close relationship with us all.

Psalm 51: 1–13 is King David’s great penitential Psalm. He has broken the sixth, seventh, and tenth commandments. He had set up Uriah, a loyal bodyguard, to be murdered so that he could claim his wife, with whom he had had an adulterous relationship. And he kept quiet about his massive sins, only to suffer torment he was highly anxious and miserable.

When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became day long groans. The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up.

The writer to the Hebrews (4:13) observes nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Sure enough, God dispatches the prophet Nathan to confront him in story form. David could’ve lied and blown Nathan off. Like many absolute rulers, he could’ve had him killed. But in a plot twist from what one might have expected from any other ancient Middle Eastern king, David admits his guilt—he takes responsibility.

  • For his transgressions—Stepping over God’s boundaries, he transgressed against Bathsheba, Uriah, and to his family. He was a poor example to his sons and to his nation.
  • For his iniquities— those things that are grossly immoral and thoroughly wrong: adultery, murder, covetousness.
  • For sins— failure to meet God‘s standards.

However, David does provide a good model for us in this Psalm. He admits his sins, transgressions, and iniquities; he begs God‘s forgiveness, and he asks God to transform him by the power of his Holy Spirit. In today’s “cancel culture,” David would be toast. His life and his legacy would be ruined. But our God loved his heart, took pity on him, and forgave him. I don’t know about you, but this is the kind of correct assessment I would prefer God had of me.

Hebrews 5:5-10 is making it clear to us that Jesus is our great high priest. But he’s from the tribe of Judah, not descended from Aaron, nor a member of the Levites the priestly clan. However, given God’s correct assessment, the Father defines Jesus as our high priest in the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek is first mentioned in Genesis 14. He congratulates Abraham on his victory against four pagan kings and blesses Abraham in the name of the Most High God. As king of Salem, he gives Abraham bread and wine. Then Abraham awards him a tithe.

John 12 2333, some Greeks come to ask Jesus their questions. As outsiders they were consigned to the court of the Gentiles in the temple and could not be present to hear Jesus teach. They approach Phillip, perhaps because his name is Greek, who with Andrew bring them to Jesus’ attention. Jesus, knowing He is soon facing the cross, meets with them briefly. We don’t know what the Greeks expect or want to ask. But Jesus reiterates He is going to die.

A millennium later (Psalms 110:4), David speaks prophetically of a priest and king to whom he would bow, Jesus the Messiah. Today’s passage from Hebrews, written just after Christ’s Ascension, asserts that Jesus is a high priest from the order of Melchizedek, a higher order than the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood. Speaking God’s truth and accurately predicting His death, resurrection, and the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus was a prophet in His earthly ministry. He will come again in glory as the universal king. And here we learn Jesus is our great high priest.

The kernel that falls to the ground but results are much fruit and many other seeds

He knows he’s going to the cross and it’s going to be very painful. He doesn’t want to, but he will. For the third time, God speaks encouragement to him. He will be lifted up as His followers hope, but on a cross not to a kingly throne…yet. Nevertheless, over hundreds of years, has He not drawn millions to Him?

So often our God does the opposite of what we might expect, or even what we wish Him to do, so how might we deal with this? We might want to remember that God’s assessments are always correct. We tend to trust in our own perceptions. Experience tells us we are sometimes—maybe even often—wrong. Nevertheless, we worship a God who is always accurate in his assessments.

Are we going to trust in our own perceptions or in God’s accurate assessments?

Proverbs 3:5– trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

Proverbs 28-26– he who trust in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.

Prayer:

Lord, help us to put our trust in you, even above ourselves and our own perceptions, judgments, and assessments. Help us to rightly discern the truth and to live lives that are pleasing in Your sight. We pray this in the mighty, compassionate, grace-filled, and always accurate name of Your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright 2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Saving Power of God

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 14, 2021

Scriptures: Num 21:4-9; Ps 107:1-3, 17-22; Eph 2:1-10; Jn 3:14-21

Stories are told—true stories—of both Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria pardoning someone who had incurred the death penalty. In Queen Elizabeth’s case, the queen was traveling by barge on July 17, 1579. Not realizing her majesty was cruising through the area, a young man named Thomas Appletree was firing off shots into the air to impress his friends. Unfortunately for him, one of his bullets came within 6 feet of the queen, seriously wounding one of her rowers. The queen offered encouragement to the wounded man while young Appletree was summarily arrested by her guards and later condemned to death. Just as Appletreewas being led to the gallows, however, a pardon arrived from the queengraciously sparing his life. We don’t know her motivations. Perhaps she realized it had been a careless accident, “no harm, no foul.” Or maybe she had an appreciation for the folly of youth. Whatever the case, she let the guy go free.

In Queen Victoria’s case (just 18 years old when she came to the throne in 1837), she was asked to sign some documents, one of which concerned the execution of a criminal. She was reluctant to do this and asked, “And must I be a party to his death?” The Prime Minister answered, “I fear it is so, unless Your Majesty desires to exercise her royal prerogative of mercy.” In a surprising move for someone so young and so new to power, she responded, “As an expression of the spirit in which I desire to rule, I will exercise my royal prerogative.” She wrote, “Pardoned” on the document, and the man was freed.

​In both examples, neither fellow to be executed had any power to save himself.  Instead, both were pardoned by the sovereign authority—really by the saving grace–of God and of his compassionate monarch.

​Our scripture lessons today all attest to the saving power ​of our God:

Numbers 21:4-9 Recounts the 8th and final incidence of the Israelites grumbling against God during their desert wanderings.

No doubt they were tired of trudging across desert terrain, of the unchanging wilderness landscape, and of the food—marvelous though it was! Even a daily ration of steak or lobster would lose its appeal if that were all we had to eat.  So, they declare (v.5)àWe detest this miserable food. Despite the fact that it tasted good (like honey and coriander); was so nutritious that they had no diseases, cancers, or flues for 40 years; and they didn’t have to produce it by digging or hunting. They simply had to gather the flakes from the ground each morning.  Falsely asserting that they had it so good back in Egypt, they grumble one too many times.

Their behavior is what we might call “snarky,” or “snaky,” and certainly demonstrated a lack of gratitude to God. So, in an apt judgment for their lack of appreciation, the Lord sets loose poisonous snakes among them. No doubt these snakes bit the worst of the complainers first, and then struck fear into everyone else. (I mean, think of it! No chairs in the desert to jump up on to get away. No guns to shoot the things! YIKES!) But, when they beg Moses for help, God also graciously provides a curious snake-bite remedy: He has Moses fashion a snake out of bronze and affix it to a wooden pole, which he raises up so it can be seen. He then tells them that if they are bitten, they can look upon the snake on the pole and be healed.

This incident and God’s antidote are actually a foreshadowing, or a typology of Jesus: The snake represents the peoples’ sins, ingratitude and rebellion. The snake—sin–is nailed to tree, branch, or cross. (In the Hebrew, all three words are the same. Any portion of a tree, even a twig, was called a tree.) Jesus, on the Cross, exchanges our sins for His right-standing with God the Father.

Today’s Gospel, John 3:14-15, references and interprets this Old Testament event. Jesus says, Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. In other words, as Jesus explains to the Pharisee Nicodemus–and to us–it will be/was necessary for Him to go to the Cross and to die for our sins. We are set free of the penalty for our sins (death) by looking on Jesus with eyes of faith.

John goes on to say, (3:16) For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. Notice it says that God loves all, but only saves those who believe in Jesus. Under the Old Covenant, we paid the price for our own sins. We raised or purchased an animal for sacrifice. Our sins were transferred to that animal, which the priest then slaughtered in our presence and burned on the altar. We left sin-free until we sinned again and had to do the same thing over and over. But under the New Covenant, we are forever saved by the power of God through our faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. Please don’t miss the symbolism: Sin (not Jesus) is the snake! But through Jesus, our sin is nailed to the Cross of Christ–nothing else has to die and we are pardoned.

In Ephesians 2:1-10 Paul wants us to be mindful of the fact that we have no power, within ourselves, to save ourselves. Just like the two Brits who were saved by the two young queens, we are guilty of being sinners.

Paul writes, (verses 1-3, Peterson’s The Message) It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose His temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Some scholars believe that, without Jesus, we are all failures, spiritual zombies, lacking any ability to bring ourselves back to life.

But the great Good News is that (v.5)àInstead [of doing away with or executing us], immense in mercy and with an incredible love, He [God] embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on His own, with no help from us! Or, as Paul goes on to explain in verses 8-9 (NIV) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast.

Another of my heroes of the Christian faith is Martin Luther, the German reformer in the 1500’s. He had an exacting, critical father who wanted him to be a lawyer. Luther aspired to be a Catholic priest instead.

To his father’s huge disappointment, he did get ordained, but suffered from depression—probably somewhat due to having never received his earthly father’s approval. Luther feared he could never be good enough to please God. It is recorded that he read verses 8-9 in Ephesians 2 one day and had a “Eureka moment!” He realized he didn’t have to work so hard to attain God’s favor. No daily confessions–apparently he had attended confession 2-3 times a day trying to overcome his sinfulness. No repeated praying of the rosary day after day and no need to beat himself with a hand-held whip to atone. Instead, he finally realized that God the Father is not like his continually disapproving earthly father. Because of his faith in Christ Jesus, he had God’s favor. Because of our faith in Jesus Christ, we have God’s favor.

Again, Peterson paraphrases Paul so beautifully here (vv.4-7) Now God has us where He wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all His idea, and all His work. All we do is trust Him enough to let Him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. God loves us, but His holiness and His perfect justice require that we confess our sins to and verbalize our need for Him. He has the power and the grace to then forgive us due to Jesus’ atoning death on the Cross, and to (pardon) save us.

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 spells out for us our appropriate response: In verse 1 the psalmist says we want to give thanks to the Lord because He is good to us and loves us. In verses 17-23 he exhorts us not to be rebellious and ungrateful, like the Israelites in the desert. In essence, we are urged to recognize God’s saving power.

The stories of the pardons of the two British queens are very grace-filled, are they not? They were gracious and magnanimous enough to eliminate the men’s punishment. But let’s remember that our God has done them one better. He didn’t just pardon us. He pardoned us thentook our sentence, the death penalty, so that justice was fulfilled and we wouldn’t have to pay the price There’s a contemporary Christian song with the following, relevant lyrics:

Amazing love, oh what sacrifice,

The Son of God given for me.

My debt He paid and my death He died

That I might live.

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

C 2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The God of Second Chances

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 24, 2021

Scriptures: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Ps 62:5-12; 1 Cor7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20

         Our culture tends to believe that success is good but failure is bad.  Furthermore, we should avoid failure at all costs.  This can lead, however, to some really bad decisions/actions on our parts.  I read this week about the Darwin Awards.  Very cynically, these are given to people…“who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it—usually doing so in an extraordinarily stupid manner.”  I don’t know who these Darwin folks are, but they scan the news, looking for foolish ways that people accidentally kill themselves.  They have been making these posthumous awards annually since 1994.  One recent winner was a 19 YO male from Houston.  He had bragged to his friends that he could win at Russian Roulette.  His gun was a semi-automatic. Apparently he either didn’t know or didn’t remember that it automatically inserts a bullet in the chamber whenever it’s cocked.  In other words, his chances of surviving pulling the trigger were zero, and he indeed died.  A second recent winner was a Malaysian executioner.  Imagine putting that on your resume:  “From 2001 to 2008, I was an official executioner.”  It seem she wanted a friend to take a picture of him standing on the gallows with a noose around his neck.  However, he hadn’t first checked to see if the trap door was locked in place.  When he stepped on the platform with his head in the noose, the trap door opened and he was hanged!  The Darwin Folks would have us believe these two got what they deserved and we are better off without them.

               In a similar vein, do youremember France’s Maginot Line of WWII? The French had heavily armed and barricaded the border they shared with Germany, thinking this would save them from a Nazi invasion.  What they failed to consider is that the Nazis would first invade Belgium, then cross into France from that border, breaking into France to the west of and avoiding the Maginot Line altogether.  I’m sure students of military history have decried France’s misplaced trust in this impaired defensive strategy as a huge and costly mistake.

         Currently we are dealing with the “Cancel Culture.”  If the press or social media discover one bad thing you have done in your past, they come after you with no mercy, shaming and embarrassing you in public.  There is no grace and no mercy.

         Cancel Culture, the Darwin Awards, and even the experience of the Maginot Line would have us all believe that it is fatal to make a mistake. Such a belief is both unchristian and totally at odds with our God!  He often views failure/mistakes as a way to bring about good:

         (a) Failure keeps us humble;

         (b) Failure reminds us we are neither perfect nor gods;

         (c) Failure allows God to mold and shape our character;

         (d) Failure helps increase our dependence upon God.  When we see what a mess we have made of our lives, we realize we need God to guide and protect us.

         Two of our Scriptures today reference a godly response to failure.  In our Old Testament lesson, we catch up to Jonah (3:1-5, 10) post whale experience.  You probably remember that God had given the prophet the assignment to evangelize the Assyrians.  But Jonah was horrified at the prospect and immediately ran in the opposite direction.  Maybe he or his family had been victims of Assyrian raids, as they were feared all over the ancient Near East for their ferocity in battle.  The tales told regaling the revolting and brutal things they did to those they fought and defeated would strike terror into the hearts of any listener.  It is said that piles of human skulls sat outside the gates to all their cities.  Perhaps Jonah ran from the missionary task because he instead wanted God to justly punish them (like the Cancel Culture, he wanted to exact revenge on his enemies).  Or perhaps he just couldn’t get his mind around the fact that God meant to show them—even them!–mercy.  Or maybe he was just simply afraid of them!  Whatever his rationale, he headed to Spain, got caught in a violent storm, was thrown off the ship by the crew—who were sure someone on board had offended the gods–and swallowed by a giant fish/whale.

         Our lesson today picks up with Jonah having been miraculously vomited up onto the beach, only to have God again tell him to go to Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria.  And, having learned his lesson—it’s not healthy to defy God—he goes. Archeological digs dating from the 1950’s tell us the city was apparently 27 miles in circumference (2.5 mi. long; 1.33mi. wide).  It was probably like many of our large cities, in that one suburb ran into another in a big urban sprawl.  It apparently was so large that it took Jonah several days to walk through it, proclaiming his message of repentance.

         Now I don’t know about you, but I have often wondered why fierce Ninevites would pay any attention to a lone, bedraggled Israelite.  But imagine how Jonah might have looked after having spent 2-3 days in a whale’s digestive juices.  Other folks who have been recovered from the stomachs of large fish (and some have over the years), have been found to be hairless.  Like persons who have undergone chemotherapy, they lose the hair on their heads, faces (including eyebrows and eyelashes), and their bodies.  Jonah probably didn’t wear a wig, so his totally hairless appearance, and lack of a beard, would have surely grabbed peoples’ attention.  No doubt the stomach acids altered his skin color as well.  He probably looked orange, the original “Orange Man.”  The folks of Nineveh had never seen anyone like him, so they probably stopped to gawk.  While he had their attention, he told them they had 40 days to change their ways or die! Pagan folks (& some Christians too) are often superstitious.  They would have figured Jonah was someone special, so they all—even the king—immediately fell into repentance.  They were profoundly impacted.  Several hundred thousand people came to grief over their sins and desired to know and follow God.  J. Vernon McGee, my favorite Bible commentator, calls this the largest revival in history.

         This story is such a wonderful demonstration of God’s mercy.  Look at how grace-filled He was toward these horrible Assyrians! He gave them a second chance.  Look at how grace-filled He was toward His disobedient prophet! I’m always amazed at how God uses and redeems our rough experiences, when we allow Him.  He even used Jonah’s altered and strange appearance as a means of attracting an audience willing to listen to this wandering Israelite.

         And these are not the only examples of God’s extension of second chances to folks in Scripture:

         (1) Jacob stole his brother’s inheritance, yet God made  him a patriarch of the faith;

         (2) King David committed adultery and murder, and yet God later—following David’s repentance–made him a man after His own heart.

         (3) Peter denied and abandoned Christ when He needed  him most, yet Jesus made him an Apostle and very likely the first Bishop of Rome.

         (4) Saul, who zealously murdered Christians, encounters the Risen Christ, and becomes Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.

         (5) In Jesus’ story of the Prodigal This son, who according to ancient Near Eastern tradition, should have probably been snubbed by his offended father, is gladly embraced.  Any on-lookers would have expected the father to kick this money-grubbing, insolent, disrespectful son to the curb, but his father greeted him with  kisses.  Their neighbors would have expected to see the son beaten, but instead his grateful father produces a celebratory banquet.

All of these examples demonstrate that our God is a God of grace and forgiveness.   He patiently waits on us to come to our senses and come to Him.   Unwilling that any of us would miss out on His love and mercy, He offers us a 2nd chance, and sometimes even more!

         Our psalm today is Psalm 62, written by King David in his elder years. As you read it, you may be surprised by David’s themes as he wrote this after having survived a palace coup by his favorite son, Absolom.  Over time, and without David’s knowledge, Absolom had curried the favor of former friends of his father’s, and even a portion of the Israelite army no longer loyal to the King.  Absolom and his cronies entered Jerusalem by one gate, while his elderly and grieved father is forced to flee (with his court, advisors, and army personnel still loyal to him), by another.  So, as David composed this psalm, he is feeling rejected and betrayed by his favorite son, and overcome by grief.

         Yet notice how he focuses not on his pain, but on his relationship with God.  He expresses his trust in God!  Though he has been forced from his capital city in defeat, instead of being caught up in bitterness or a desire for revenge, he expresses optimism and praise to the Lord!

         (1) In v.9 He says he doesn’t put his trust in the fickle mob, not in men, but in God;

         (2) In v.10 He says he doesn’t trust in material things;

         (3) In v.11 Instead, he says he trusts in God because God has the Power!

         (4) In v.12 Instead, he says he trusts in God because God is merciful.

         These are such good lessons for us in these uncertain times, aren’t they?  When wild-eyed and unhinged political zealots are calling for revenge and retribution toward their enemies; when the Covid-19 has morphed and ramped up its killing capacity yet again; when the economic future seems uncertain; when we see our civil rights being challenged and increasingly curtailed by big tech, big business, big media, and big government; and when another caravan of thousands of migrants seems poised to storm our borders; in all of these situations, we need to put our trust in God.

         Like Jonah, we can be obedient and stand back and watch Him do miracles!  Like King David, we can trust in Him despite our circumstances…remembering that God has the power to protect us, remembering that God is merciful.  Unlike the people who give out the Darwin Awards, the Nazis, or the Cancel Culture, our God has shown time and time again that He believes we can change—with His help.  He doesn’t demand that we be perfect (the more I feel pressured to be perfect, the more mistakes I tend to make).  He just wants us, like King David, to trust in Him.  And He wants us, like the prophet Jonah, to obey Him.  Thank you, Lord, for being the God of 2nd chances!  Amen!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

God’s Grace versus Cancel Culture

Pastor Sherry’s Message for 8/30/2020

Scriptures: Ex 3:1-15; Ps 105:23-26; Ro 12:9-21; Matt 16:21-28

Recently I came across 2 examples of our current “cancel culture” at work. With the “cancel culture,” you are only as good as your social media account messages are PC.  Step out of line and your reputation is destroyed, while your future is threatened.

The first concerned a Jordanian-American named Natasha Tynes.  Tynes had researched and written about threats to free speech and a free press in Egypt and then had faced persecution in Egypt for it.  Back in the states again, she was riding the DC-area subway, the Metro, when she saw a transit worker eating in the train.  There are signs posted everywhere prohibiting this behavior, so Natasha confronted the worker and pointed out that she was violating the rules.  The worker rudely blew her off! Natasha said she frequently rides the subway hungry and so was frustrated that a person with the power to fine her for eating was herself violating the rules.  As a result, Natasha wrote a letter of complaint to the transit authorities, asking that they take some disciplinary action.  

She probably should have left the matter there, but she also “tweet-shamed” her by calling the woman out on line, including a picture of her eating on the train. Some 45 minutes later, Natasha rethought what she had done and deleted her tweet.  She also apologized on line for her actions, admitting she had responded out of a “short-lived expression of frustration.  In addition, she wrote the transit authority to ask them to overlook her complaint.  But the Twitter Mob turned on her, calling her “Metro-Molly.”  Ms. Tyne’s publisher learned of this “temptest in a teapot” and decided not to print her latest book. They claimed she had done “something truly horrible” and excused their decision to renege on their contract because Natasha “had threatened the transit worker’s health and safety.  What?

The second incident concerned that vocal young man from the Parkland high school shooting, Kyle Kashuv. We saw him interviewed on TV a number of times.  He received several offers of scholarships to college and turned them all down to attend Harvard.  Later, word got back to Harvard, via some of his classmates that Kashuv–a Jewish conservative–had made anti-semetic and racist comments in a private online chat back when he was 16 years old.  The young man apologized publically.  He even wrote a Harvard dean to admit his responsibility and to ask for forgiveness.

David French of the National Review reported that Kashuv did “everything we want a young man to do when he’s done something wrong.”  Nevertheless, Harvard believed his email remarks from several years younger were too egregious to forgive, and rescinded his admission.

 Recently, Kellyanne Conway resigned as advisor to the President when her 15 year old daughter “tweet-shamed” her and her husband on line.  I am not trying to draw in politics here.  Rather, I am making the point that people feel all too free to call one another out on line.  This teen has hurt her parents very publically by defaming their reputations.  I wonder how she will feel about this when she is 25 or 35, or a parent herself. Sadly, this child has not learned to live out Paul’s admonitions from Romans 12: V.14àBless those who [you believe] persecute you; bless and do not curse; v.16àLive in harmony with one another; and v.17+àDo not repay [even perceived] evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

This is where we are now.  A mistake, a lapse in judgment, can cost you everything today.  Thank God our Lord does not operate by cancel culture rules!  Let’s look at two He could have chosen to cancel, but didn’t, in today’s scripture passages:

First, we have Moses (Ex 3:1-15).  Last week, we saw this Hebrew slave kid rescued from the Nile, to be raised in Pharaoh’s own household.

By this week, he has advanced to the age of 40, and realized God has tapped him to champion his people, the Jews.  Without waiting on God’s direction, however, he kills an Egyptian overseer for beating a Hebrew slave. His own people, seeing him dressed as an Egyptian, fail to trust him, fearing he is an Egyptian murderer.  Furthermore, Pharaoh hears of the incident and wants to arrest him.  So Moses flees Egypt into the desert.  By attempting to do what he thought he should do, He finds himself driven away.

 He reaches Midian and rescues the 7 daughters of Reuel who were also doing what they were supposed to do—watering their sheep.  Moses observed some rowdy male shepherds attempting to push them aside to water their animals first.  Moses rescues the ladies and sends the ruffians packing.  Subsequently, he marries the eldest, Zipporah; soon has a son, Gershom (whose name means “sojourner” or “alien”—kinda suggests how Moses feels about living in Midian); and tends sheep, for another 40 years. Like King David, later, he is going to be called from tending a flock of animals to shepherding God’s people.

 In today’s passage, he encounters God (the preincarnate Christ) in aburning bush that does not burn up.  He is told to take his shoes off becausehe is in the presence of God, which makes the ground they are on holyindeed.  God calls him by name twice (make no mistake, our God knows our names!).  God also reveals who He is:  The God of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God shares that His name is, I am who I am; or, as some translations say, I will be who I will be.   In other words, as the passage states, He is the God who sees, thinks, hears, knows,remembers, and intervenes for His people.

God also reaffirms Moses’ call to deliver the Hebrew slaves from Egyptian bondage.  Notice, God has not canceled him due to having murdered an Egyptian.  Instead God has hidden him out, in the back of the beyond for 40 years, so that the Pharaoh who sought to arrest him has had time to die and be replaced.  Additionally, those Israelite slaves who witnessed the murder have also passed on. God has made sure it is safe for Moses to return to Egypt.  And Moses has learned to wait on God.

Our Psalm mentions how God sent Moses, His servant, to set His people free.

 Now, let’s jump to our Gospel lesson from Matt 16:21-28.  Last week, we read how Peter confessed what the Holy Spirit had revealed to him:  that Jesus was/is the Messiah.  This week, Jesus begins to educate the Twelve regarding what God’s Messiah will do.  Despite their personal beliefs and expectations of Messiah, Jesus says He will die on a Roman cross, condemned by His own; He will die to redeem those very folks and all the rest of us too.  Like Moses before Him, Jesus is a shepherd, our shepherd and a deliverer, our deliverer.  Understandably, Rocky (Peter) is horrified! Like Moses, he gets ahead of himself.  Rather than taking in what Jesus is saying, he tries to talk Him out of it.  YIKES, Peter!  We don’t get to tell God what to do.  Jesus has just praised Rocky, but now he really tears into him—

He calls His dear friend Satan!  He rightly accuses him of interfering with God’s plan.  Whether he or we like it or not, God’s plan appears to require that we (v.24) deny [ourselves, our self-will], take up [our] Cross and follow [Jesus].  Like so many of us, Peter hears from God but he is also motivated by selfish self-interest and perhaps beguiled by the evil one.

 We know the outcome of both stories:  Moses leads the people out of Egypt—even though they wander in the desert for 40 years.  And Peter becomes a dynamic, faith-filled leader of the new Christian Church. God had grace, mercy, and forgiveness for them both!

What would have happened to Moses or to Peter—Rocky–if our Lord operated by the rules of cancel culture?  Cancel culture assumes—impossibly—that you can never make a mistake.  No grace or mercy is allowed for immaturity, anger, impetuousness.  Cancel Culture believes, Once a sinner, always a sinner.   You cannot even apologize and be forgiven.  As we have seen in the examples of Natasha, Kyle, and the Conways, judgment is swift and forgiveness is withheld!  Furthermore, cancel culture ruins the person’s future—despite a very productive present–based on one lapse in judgment or a perceived wrong response. 

Aren’t we glad our God does not operate that way?  Our God is characterized by love, grace, and mercy.  He keeps His promises and He forgives our sins.  He reinstates us. He uses us once we realize we cannot work out His program in our own strength.  Instead, we operate in His strength, surrendered to His will.  Thanks be to God that He has such patience, such forgiveness, such mercy for us.

This week, I challenge you to pray for Natasha Tynes and Kyle Kashuv, and any other victims of the media mob and the cancel culture.  Pray for peace and reconciliation between the senior Conways and their 15 year old daughter.  Let’s also be aware of God’s mercy.  And let’s be grateful that there is no cancel culture with our Lord!

 

c 2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

 

Who Gets Saved?

Pastor Sherry’s Message for August 16, 2020

Scriptures: Gen 45:1-15; Ro 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matt 15:21-28

Who Gets Saved?

Recently I came across this story of a present day American artist, Steven Lavaggi. Some years back, he encountered a number of personal set-backs:  His wife left him to marry a writer for Rolling Stone Magazine.  Not two weeks later, he learned his son was suffering from Juvenile Diabetes. Then his graphic art business failed.

Unemployed, abandoned, and worried about his son, Lavaggi turned to God’s Word.  Sitting on his bedroom floor, and by himself, Steven read the Gospels. He later reported that he skipped over the black letters, wanting only to read the words spoken by Christ. Because he was reading with the intention of finding Jesus, the Risen Christ emerged from the pages. The artist then gave his life to the Lord.

As a new Christian, he clung to Psalm 91:11: “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”  Out of his brokenness, came a passion to create a message of hope. To this end, he left the lucrative world of graphic art to become a struggling fine artist.  His paintings typically are of beautiful rural scenes usually populated with tall, graceful angels; he has also fashioned some amazing sculptures of angels.

Lavaggi’s story is of a man who has withstood and overcome the blows of life.  At a point of true despair, he began to search the Bible for encouragement.Reading only the red letters, he found it–Praise God!–and gave his heart to Jesus!  Out of the depths of his pain, Steven sought out and found salvation.  Finding Jesus inspired him to redirect his life’s work from graphic art to painting and sculpting works that bring hope to others.

One of the themes present in our Scripture passages today is that of being saved or experiences of salvationLet’s examine these together:

Last week, our Old Testament lesson, related how Joseph’s 10 brothers from other mothers sold him into slavery. This week’s lesson, Genesis 45:1-15, jumps ahead to describe Joseph’s reunion with the 10 half-brothers and with his full brother, Benjamin.  Joseph, after 13-14 years of slavery, interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and reports correctly that they predict 7 years of massively abundant harvests followed by 7 years of desperate famine.

Two years into the famine, his 10 treacherous brothers arrive in Egypt to purchase food for the family.  Unbeknownst to them, their lost brother Joseph has survived—by the design and grace of God—and is now second in command of all of Egypt.  They no doubt fail to recognize him because he is…

[1] Clean shaven rather than bearded;

[2] Dressed in Egyptian clothing and jewelry;

[3] 22 years older than when they last saw him;

[4] Speaking the Egyptian language, while talking to them thru an

interpreter.

         [5] And, not to mention, they probably never expected to see him alive ever again.  It is to Joseph that they must apply to buy grain.  Just as Joseph’s own dreams from age 17 had prophesied, his 10 brothers now bow down to him to request aid.

Wisely, before he reveals himself to them, Joseph checks to see if they have changed in the interim.  He generously sells them the grain they need to live, but also decides to test them in two ways:  1st he requires that they leave Simeon behind and bring back Benjamin.  He is testing their honesty.  He is also checking to see if they will allow another brother (Simeon) to be killed or imprisoned to get what they want.  The brothers return again, to buy more food, and bring Benjamin.  Joseph’s 2nd test involves his full brother, Benjamin.  Joseph has his servants hide a favored cup in Ben’s bags.  This is a set up to see if they will sacrifice the new favorite son.  Joseph wants to know if they have ascertained the cost of jealousy.  Have they become more loyal to their brother from Joseph’s mother?  Have they developed greater compassion for their ageing and heartbroken, grieving father?

Judah, the new leader of the 10 brothers, steps up and offers his life in the place of Benjamin.  The brothers do realize that potentially losing another brother is God’s punishment for what they did to Joseph.  At least Judah—who had been the one to suggest they sell Joseph to slave traders–is willing to sacrifice his life for Benjamin’s.  Judah had been so mortified by his father’s deep grief over Joseph’s supposed death that he had fled the family camp and lived for a time with the Canaanites.  Judah’s offer indicates a true change of heart.

So, satisfied that they have truly undergone a moral transformation, Joseph reveals his true identity to them.  At first, they can’t believe it is him.

Then they fear his retribution.  But in a truly Christ-like way, he reassures them, [Peterson’s The Message](v.5+)àI am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt.  But don’t feel badly, don’t blame yourselves for selling me.  God was behind it.  God sent me here ahead of you to save lives.  There has been a famine in the land now for two years; the famine will continue for five more years—neither plowing nor harvesting.  God sent me on ahead to pave the way and make sure there was a remnant in the land, to save your lives in an amazing act of deliverance.  So you see, it wasn’t you who sent me here but God.  He set me in place as a father to Pharaoh, put me in charge of his personal affairs, and made me ruler of all Egypt.  God uses Joseph to save his father, Jacob/Israel, his brothers, and his whole extended family (a total of 90 people); but Joseph’s wisdom also saves thousands, perhaps millions of Egyptians; as well as untold, unnumbered, other Gentiles.

So, who gets saved?  Joseph’s family and the fledgling Jewish/Hebrew nation.

Our New Testament Lesson, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, makes it pretty clear that God has not rejected the Jews as His Chosen People.  Just as God is merciful to us, Gentile believers, He too will have mercy on the Jews.  At some point in the future (probably during the Great Tribulation), many—not all—but many Jews will come to Christ and be saved.

 Who gets saved?  Many modern day Jews in the days to come.

Our Gospel lesson occurs in Matthew 15, but is also told in Mark 7.  Jesus journeys outside Israel’s borders (into Tyre & Sidon, NW of Jerusalem)because He knows He has been rejected by many of his countrymen.  He apparently needs a break.  His focus has been on reaching His fellow Jews, the Children ofIsrael.  But now He appears to indicate, through this story, that He will also receive Gentiles (aren’t we glad?).

This Canaanite (Syro-Phoenecian) woman with a demonized daughter approaches Him.  Apparently, she is noisily insistent that she see Jesus. she persists.  She won’t take no for an answer.  She has no true claim on Jesus as…

[1] She is not a Jew by nationality—wrong ethnicity;

[2] She is not a convert to the Jewish faith—wrong religion;

[3] And she is a woman—wrong gender, by the standards of the day.  And, remember, Jewish rabbis did not typically speak to women.

But this woman is a mother–and apparently a tigress–desiring healing for her child.  Clearly she believes Jesus can free her daughter from demons.  And clearly she isn’t going to be put off.

Jesus uses the metaphor of dogs to remind her, His disciples, and whoever might else might be listening, that His first priority is to the Jews.

Jews often referred to Gentiles as “dogs.”  However, Jesus uses the diminutive of “dogs”, “puppies” in the Hebrew.  He is essentially saying, just as in a family, there is an order here. The children (Israelites) eat first; then puppies get fed, but not from the table and not until the kids are done.  He is not telling her she cannot expect help from Him, but rather that there is a set of priorities to His ministry.

She gets what He is saying, steps into His metaphor, and reminds Him that (v.27)àbut even the puppies eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.  She knows she does not have a legitimate place at theJewishtable;but she indicates that she believes that Jesus can provideenough to Israel that some leftovers will be available to her and to her daughter.  She dialogues with Jesus in a most respectful way.Notice, she doesn’t say, Give me what I deservedue to my goodness or my rights—or quote “Me too” movement slogans, which some today might.  Instead, as Timothy Keller asserts in his book King’s Cross (2011, p.89), she implies,Give me what I don’t deserve on the basis of Your goodnessand, please, I need it right now.

Jesus commends her:  (v.28)àWonderful answer!  Incredible answer!  You may go.  The demon has left your daughter.  He appears to be impressed with her—and heals herchild—because she got His metaphor without His having to explain it; and perhaps too because she answers Him from within the parable.  These things tell Himshe heard and understood His message to her.

Who gets saved?  This woman and probably her daughter.

So, to sum up, who gets saved?

  1. Steven Laveggi, through reading Scripture;
  2. Joseph’s father, brothers, their wives and kids; through Joseph’s wisdom and forgiving spirit.
  3. God’s chosen people, the Jews, if they behave like they know, obey, and love the Lord; and if they accept Jesus as their Savior.
  4. And Gentiles, like us, who–as Paul reminds us in Romans 10:9–If you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

To this I say “Thank you, Lord, for making it so simple.  Help us all to demonstrate our love and faith in you, daily, by what we say and by what we do.  May it all be pleasing to You!  Amen!”

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams