Gratitude Like The One In Nine

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 9, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 29:1-7; Ps 66:1-12; 2 Tim 2:8-15; Lk 17:11-19

A Jesuit priest has said, “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” That bears repeating: “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” Modern psychological research has shown that finding things to be grateful for is a key to good mental health. People who can think of 3 things for which they are thankful, daily, are less likely to be depressed and more likely to be happy.

A cartoon in a magazine shows a couple, at the church door, saying goodbye to the pastor following the service. The man says, “Wonderful sermon! Thanks for not mentioning my name.” We can be grateful for not having our sins shared from the pulpit. (I promise you, I will never name you and your personal sins from this pulpit.)

I can think of two other examples of grateful people:

(1) The leader of our denomination, John Wesley, “…was about 21 years of age when he went to Oxford University. He came from a Christian home, and he was gifted with a keen mind and good looks. Yet in those days he was a bit snobbish and sarcastic. One night, however, something happened that set in motion a change in Wesley’s heart.

“While speaking with a porter, he discovered that the poor fellow had only one coat and lived in such impoverished conditions that he didn’t even have a bed. Yet he was an unusually happy person, filled with gratitude to God.

“Wesley, being immature, thoughtlessly joked about the man’s misfortunes. “And what else do you thank God for?” he said with a touch of sarcasm.

“The porter smiled, and in the spirit of meekness replied with joy, ‘I thank Him that He has given me my life and being, a heart to love Him, and above all a constant desire to serve Him!

“Deeply moved, Wesley recognized that this man knew the meaning of true thankfulness.

“Many years later, in 1791, John Wesley lay on his deathbed at the age of 88. Those who gathered around him realized how well he had learned the lesson of praising God in every circumstance. Despite Wesley’s extreme weakness, he began singing the hymn, ‘I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath.’”

(From a sermon entitled “True Thankfulness” by Donnie Martin, July 26, 2010)

(2) Albert, the fellow who manned a drive up window at a Café DuMonde in New Orleans, where I stopped most mornings to get a CafeAuLait. He lacked most of his teeth but the ones he had were gold. He probably worked for minimum wage, but when I asked him each day how he was, he always replied, “I’m blessed!” The Lord used Albert in my life just as he used the porter in John Wesley’s. Two “simple” but wise—though economically disadvantaged persons–knew the value of daily expressing their gratitude to God.

Let’s see what our Scripture lessons today have to say about daily expressing gratitude to God:

A. Our Psalm (66:1-12) instructs us to praise God because of His deliverance, His preservation, and His provision for us.

B. In our Epistle (2 Timothy 2:8-15), Paul instructs us thank God for our redemption through Jesus Christ.

C. In our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 29:1-7), the prophet has written a letter to the Jewish captives in Babylon. They had been carted away, in defeat, to a pagan foreign nation. Surprisingly, instead of commiserating with them, Jeremiah essentially tells them that they are to “bloom where they have been planted.” This sentiment was often pictured on posters in the 1960’s and I remember thinking as a young person, “I don’t want to bloom where I am planted. I want to, instead, change my environment.” I didn’t realize then that God often calls us to do our best where we are, as He intends us to be transformed there, as well as to influence others to be transformed. So, Jeremiah encourages the deportees to build homes for themselves and their families. They are to settle in where they have wound up. Further, he encourages them to plant gardens, so they can feed themselves. Obviously, the Lord intends that they will be there for a while.

They are to marry and have sons and daughters. Again, this implies they will be there for some time. This side of the Cross, we know they were there for 70 years, or for most of 2 generations. Rather than being frustrated or resentful (hateful), they were also to contribute to the peace/prosperity of the city of Babylon. In fact, the Lord says, through the prophet, (v.7) —Pray to the LORD for it [Babylon], because if it [Babylon] prospers, you too will prosper.

They were not to be grateful for their captivity, their deportation to a foreign land. God used that experience to punish them because He is holy (and cannot abide sin). They were guilty of idolatry, greed, lust and sexual perversion, and multiple abuses of power. They had been grossly out of line for a long time. We know from Hebrews 12:5-11 that God disciplines those He loves. We also realize that if He didn’t, we could not really trust Him. He means what He says in Scripture, and He says what He means. The Lord has punished them, hoping they will change their sinful attitudes and improve their behavior in the future. The point is that—even though they are captive in a foreign land—which seems terrible to them, it comes as no surprise to God—He engineered it. They can and should be grateful to Him because they are alive and He has not abandoned them.

We want to be grateful to God for what He teaches us through our trials. When we go through trials—emotional pain—we are molded and shaped by God. Years ago, I was counseling college students at Florida State University as part of a pre-doctoral psychology internship. While there, I encountered a “trust fund baby,” a young man who had been handed everything. He told me that he drove a brand new BMW; all his expenses were paid by his parents; he had a job waiting for him, in his father’s firm, when he finished school; and he had never had to mourn the loss of someone he loved. In other words, he had never suffered, he had never had to struggle. He asked me to help him develop some motivation for life. I suggested he volunteer at a soup-kitchen for the homeless, or spend time with disadvantaged kids in daycare. I have never known anyone to have compassion for others who has not observed or experienced suffering. When we go through trials, we learn compassion for others. We learn to have patience. We learn to trust in God despite our circumstances.

D. In our Gospel lesson (Luke 17:11-19, Jesus heals 10 lepers.

Our Lord is headed to Jerusalem to die. At the fringe of some unnamed village, 10 lepers appeal to Him for healing. He gives them what they want, freely, graciously. Notice: they had faith in Him and in His ability to heal them. He says to them, (v.14) —Go, show yourselves to the priests.

Leviticus 14:1-10 describes all the things a leper who had been healed had to do: (1) Show him/herself to the priest. (2.) The priest would then perform a detailed ritual to ensure the person was cleansed spiritually as well as physically; (3.) Then the healed person was to wash his/her clothes; shave off all his/her hair, even eyebrows; and bathe with water.

So, the ten obey Jesus and scurry off to begin the cleansing process. It is on their way that they are healed. They had stepped out in faith. They had trusted in Jesus. And unlike Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5), they were immediately compliant. But only one guy notices his healing and returns first to thank Jesus. Maybe the other nine were just too overjoyed to focus on gratitude. Or maybe they believed they deserved it (they felt entitled). Most likely their attention was on remembering and performing the religious requirements, or on the anticipated happy reunions with their families. We don’t really know why they didn’t think to thank the LORD.

The one guy who does was a hated Samaritan! We would say today that he wasn’t raised right; that he was not well bred; that he was “sorry from way back.” But the fellow who wasn’t raised right knew enough to express his gratitude. Maybe he was shocked that Jesus would heal even him. Maybe he was aware that he didn’t deserve this kind of grace from a Jewish rabbi. Jesus’ response to the Samaritan’s gratitude was fantastic—v. 17–Rise and go; your faith has made you well. This implies that the fellow was kneeling at Jesus’ feet; or maybe he had prostrated himself, in adoration. Jesus is so pleased that he commends him for his faith and for his manners. This guy has received the same physical healing as the other 9; but he has also received a complete healing. In addition to the physical, he received a spiritual healing as well–forgiveness for his sins. Both healings merited eternal gratitude.

Today’s lessons go beyond issues of disease or misfortune and healing: They challenge us to be mindful of all that God has done for us and to be grateful to Him. Too many of us are like a demanding guy in the Post Office. A guy with a broken right arm goes into the Post Office. The lady at the counter asks how she might help him. He proceeds to ask for a post card and a stamp. Then he asks her to write out his message on the card, and finally to address it to his friend. She asks again if there is anything else he needs. He looks at the card and says, “Yes please add an apology to my friend for the bad handwriting.”

(Borrowed from John Fairless and Delmer Chilton, The Lectionary Lab Commentary, Year C, 2015, p.310.)

Are we like that—or like the 9 who were healed, but didn’t express their gratitude? It’s all too easy, isn’t it, to take God’s grace for us for granted and to forget to express to Him our grateful thanks. This week, let’s remember to express to our Lord our thanks and praise. Even better, try to think of three things daily for which you are grateful to God. Do this for a month and watch and see what happens. You should find yourself being more joy-filled.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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True Security

Pastor Sherry’s message for September 5, 2021

Scriptures: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37

The following story was included in an edition of Our Daily Bread:

A group of botanists went on an expedition into a hard-to-reach location in the Alps, searching for new varieties of flowers. One day as a scientist looked through his binoculars, he saw a beautiful, rare species growing at the bottom of a deep ravine. To reach it, someone would have to be lowered into that gorge. Noticing a local youngster standing nearby, the man asked him if he would help them get the flower. The boy was told that a rope would be tied around his waist and the men would then lower him to the floor of the canyon. Excited yet apprehensive about the adventure, the youngster peered thoughtfully into the chasm. “Wait,” he said, “I’ll be back,” and off he dashed. When he returned, he was accompanied by an older man. Approaching the head botanist, the boy said, “I’ll go over the cliff now and get the flower for you, but this man must hold onto the rope. He’s my dad!”

A story from an anonymous source recalls the initial construction on the Golden Gate Bridge. Apparently, no safety devices were used and 23 men fell to their deaths. For the final part of the project, however, a large net was used as a safety precaution. At least 10 men fell into it and were saved from certain death. Even more interesting, however, is the fact that 25% more work was accomplished after the net was installed. Why? Because the men had the assurance of their safety, and they were free to wholeheartedly serve the project.

These stories illustrate so beautifully the source of our security in life. The boy could have trusted in the scientists as they were eager to obtain the rare bloom. But he knew he could feel true security only in his own father’s hands. The Golden Gate construction crew could have trusted in their own prowess and skills. Nevertheless, they performed more efficiently and effectively with the security provided by a safety net.

Last week, we looked at what it takes to dwell with God. This week, our Scriptures assert that God is our sure hands and our safety net.

A. Our OT lesson contains 6 Proverbs. Together these assert for us our God created all of us. Rich or poor, or in-betweens, He brought us into being; however, this doesn’t mean that He views all of us the same way. As verse 8 tells us, He who sows wickedness reaps trouble, and the rod of his fury will be destroyed. The Bible divides the people of this world into two camps: the righteous and evil-doers, sheep and goats. Those who are evil-doers will reap what they sow. God will both repay their evil with evil (Boomerang effect), and ultimately thwart/stymie/interrupt their ability to continue their evil practices. The righteous, on the other hand, will be blessed.

This point is reiterated in verses 22-23: Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them. Yikes! Again we see the principle of reaping and sowing, of “what goes around comes around.” God oversees the world and punishes evil-doers, either in this world or the next. Even if we don’t see the evidence of this at present, the principle still holds—our God is in charge and we can count on His justice!

B. Psalm 125 is called the “Song of Security.” It asserts that

God protects and provides for us, and that the wicked, in eternal terms, have short shelf-lives. Think of the worst tyrants in history. Many were assassinated; many others went mad or took their own lives. True security comes from our intimate relationship with God. It is as rock solid as the mountains around Jerusalem. As Peterson paraphrases (The Message, p.1072), we can trust ultimately that God will round up the backsliders, corral them with the incorrigibles.

C. James 2:1-17 continues this theme. If he were present with us today he would tell us there is no “brotherhood of all humankind.” Instead, there are two kinds of folk: Good people and evil-doers, those who love God and those who reject Him. The “woke folk” would assert that this is intolerant and bigoted, prejudicial and inequitable. But the Bible asserts over and over again that we chose our path. God doesn’t coerce us to take one direction or the other. Our own choices place us on His team or off. We choose whether or not to join the “fellowship of believers.”

So, given this Biblical truth, James spends 11 verses telling us to be sure to demonstrate/live out loving our neighbor. We’re not to show favoritism to rich people over poor, attractive over unattractive folks.

If we are unmerciful and judgmental toward others, God will respond that same way toward us. In verse 13, James reminds us: Mercy triumphs over judgment!

D. Finally, John Mark (probably writing for Peter) shares with us two examples of Jesus’ mercy:

In the first, Jesus treks up to Tyre, north of Israel, to find respite and rest from the crowds following Him. Nevertheless, a Greek woman (according to Matthew) born and living in Syro-Phoenicia, tracks Him down. We don’t know if she believes in the Hebrew God, but she appears to have faith that Jesus can heal her demonized daughter. She garners His attention then enters into a debate with Him. He appears to tell her He isn’t meant to offer healing and salvation to non-Jews (the children at the table). She may not see herself as a dog–like the Jews of the time would have–but she argues that even they get the crumbs that the children drop while eating. In other words, she believes Jesus offers enough to go around to even her. (I remember how my toddler son, from his highchair, would take a bite then hand his cookies or biscuits to our German Shepherd. As a partner in crime, the dog would gently take and eat these offerings.) Jesus is impressed by her humility, her faith, and her perseverance. He assures her that her daughter is healed. He says she is healed from the distance, and Mark reports that the woman returned home to find it was true. As James would say, Mercy triumphs over judgment. Unlike His disciples, Jesus does not overlook the needs of the non-Jews who approach Him in faith. Our God’s mercy transcends the man-made boundaries of race, nationality, political affiliation, and gender.

Next Jesus travels back south to the Sea of Galilee–imagine how many miles He put on His sandals!–and east to the area known as the Decapolis (10 towns). Folks there ask Him to heal a deaf-mute man. Jesus takes the man out of the limelight (off TV, away from phone cameras). He puts His fingers in the guy’s ears first; then, in a way that seems very unsanitary to us, He places some of his spit on the man’s tongue. (This puts me in mind of “mom spit.” How many of us have had spots on our faces washed with mom-spit applied to her finger or thumb? They should examine its chemical properties to discover how it cleans.) Jesus exclaims Ephpatha! Open up! And the man’s hearing and his speech is restored. We don’t know if the guy was a believer, but his friends had faith in Jesus’ ability to heal. This is yet another example of Jesus’ mercy.

Intent on discovering His “healing method,” I once did a review of all of Jesus’ healings recorded in the 4 Gospels. I had to conclude there was no one method we could imitate. He healed some with a word, others with touch, still others with spit or the command to do something (pick up a mat, go see the priests, go wash, etc.). He even insisted that some healings came about due to prayer and fasting. Though His methods varied, what He did appears to have been tailored to meet the needs of each individual.

In conclusion, we can truly rest secure in the fact that our God loves us, protects us, and provides for us. Again the story is told from a daily devotional:

There is a monastery in Portugal, perched high on a 3,000 foot cliff, and accessible only by a terrifying ride in a swaying basket. The basket is pulled with a single rope by several strong men, perspiring under the strain of the fully loaded basket. One American tourist who visited the site got nervous halfway up the cliff when he noticed that the rope was old and frayed. Hoping to relieve his fear he asked, “How often do you change the rope?” The monk in charge replied, “Whenever it breaks!”

Thank God our God is more proactive than that group of monks!

Let us believe in what the psalmist asserts (125:1-2): Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore. Jesus Christ is our safety net. Jesus Christ—not our bank accounts, our human contacts, our personal power, our intellect, our degrees, our influence, or safety features like security systems, guns, or non-frayed ropes–provides our true security. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Way-maker!

Pastor Sherry’s message for 9/13,2020,

Scriptures: Exodus 14:5-31; Ps 114

Osinachi Lalu Egbu is a 47YO Nigerian woman who has written more than 200 Christian praise songs.  She has shortened her name to Sinach.  Perhaps you have seen T-shirts emblazoned with the words,

“Way-Maker, Promise-Keeper, Miracle-Worker, Light-in-the-Darkness.”

These names of God begin the chorus of one of her currently popular songs, which ends with, “My God, that is Who You are!”  This song seems to be currently taking the Christian world by storm because it expresses such deep trust in God’s abilities to…1. Make a way where there seems to be none;2. Keep His promises to us;3. Work miracles on our behalf, often at the 11th hour;4. And provide light to us in our times of darkness.

I cannot think of a more dramatic event from the Old Testament that so fully demonstrates God as Way-maker, Promise Keeper, Miracle-Worker, and Light in the Darkness, as His fabulousrescue of His people in the Red Sea Crossing (Ex 14:5-31).  

Remember from last week’s lesson, God had sent the final plague—the death of the 1st born—upon Egypt.  Those Israelite slaves, however, who had applied the blood of the Passover Lamb to their door frames were spared. This final plague seemed to have broken the back of the Pharaoh’sresistance to losing his free labor-force.  He gave the word that they and their livestock could leave Egypt the next morning.  So they did…2 million of them.

Our reading today begins with them trekking through the desert region between the Nile and the Red Sea. God had them avoid two well-traveled land routes to the north, both of which paralleled the Mediterranean Sea. He knew that Egyptian spies were watching their exodus. He also realized that they would report to Pharaoh that the freed slaves seemed to be apparently wandering aimlessly. Once again underestimating God, Pharaoh decides to pursue the Hebrews with his 600 chariots. He seemed to believe his crack troops would either make mincemeat of the 2 million untrained slaves, or be able to reroute them back into captivity. Despite the recent lessons of the 10 plagues, Pharaoh appeared confident he could recapture his unpaid laborers. This, as we know, was a massive case of hubris!

Our God was not ambushed! Instead He effected a Divine Rescue:

1. As the Way-Maker, He led the people thru the desert.

The Israelites were not lost; instead they were being guided by GPS—God’s Planned Strategy.  With the Red Sea to the left and Egyptian Special Forces to the right, it seemed like the people were caught in a deadly trap between the Devil (Pharaoh) and the Deep Blue (Red) Sea!  But God purposefully led them to this situation.  The cloud-by-day, fire-by-night suddenly shifted from front, leading the people, to the back, providing a rear guard.

2. God had promised to deliver the Israelites from Egypt. So He instructed Moses to raise his staff, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, God blew open the Red Sea. Walls of water stood up on both sides of the escape route. On dry ground—let’s not miss this!—and hidden from the Egyptians, the people were able to cross through all night long. God literally had their backs! He engineered their escape as the divine Miracle-Worker.

3. The Promise-Keeper shielded the people from the their pursuers by essentially turning out the lights.

4. Meanwhile, our God provided bright firelight to reveal the path of escape for the pursed. He provided Light in the Darkness.

​There were no phones, drones, or video cameras to record this set of miracles.  Nevertheless, word of them made it to the Canaanites, especially those living in Jericho.  A Canaanite document dated from 1375BC warned of a fearsome people, called the Habiru (or Hebrews), whose powerful God fought for them. Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute who hid Joshua’s two spies, told them (Joshua 2:9-10), I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are living in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt.

So, what are the lessons for us today from the Exodus?

1. We want to remember that God is the Way-maker.

When we are caught in circumstances that seem impossible for us, we are to pray, to ask for God’s help, and to trust He will provide it. Our God hears us and often provides a response we never considered nor could have predicted! Money might manifest from some unexpected source. We might enjoy a needed delay or reprieve from some consequence we had dreaded. We might experience a cure for a disease or from an addiction we had not yet overcome. We might have undergone a sudden change of heart, or seen an altered attitude or positive behavioral shift in a friend or relative. A job or an opportunity we never imagined might have presented itself.

2. We want to remember that God is a Promise-Keeper.

He promised to save us and He has, through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross. He promises to never leave or forsake us. He promises to protect those who love Him. He promises to be present to us. He promises to answer those who call upon Him. He promises to love us, even when we act in ways that make us unlovable. He promises to forgive us if we ask Him. The writer to the Hebrews says that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. James tells us (1:17)…the Father of the heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows. He does no posing, He exhibits no fakery. He keeps His word!

3. We want to remember that God is a Miracle-Worker.

He has all of the resources of the universe at His command. It’s not like He has to search around for ways to provide for us. He doesn’t have to do fund raisers or set up a “Go Fund Me” page. He can just speak the word and His will is accomplished. Scripture tells us again and again that nothing is impossible with Him. Some people write off the Red Sea Crossing as a myth. They seem to believe even God cannot violate the laws of physics. They must not believe in the God of miracles that I do, that you do. Since God set the laws of physics into being, isn’t it clearly possible that He can override or supersede them? Our God is able to do whatever He decides todo.

Additionally, no schemes of evil men or of the Devil can thwart His plans. To me the greatest example of this is how Jesus is appearing—in dreams and visions—to people caught behind the Moslem Curtain. Hostile Moslems tell their people that Christian missionaries are evil purveyors of sex trafficing and molesters of children. Radical Islamists then use this as a justification for capturing Christian missionaries, torturing them, and thenkilling them in those countries. But no human or government can capture or kill Jesus. It’s already been done and it didn’t stick!4. Finally, we want to remember that God is the Light in the Darkness. The news media daily inundates us with negativity and fear-producing predictions. Consider what they say just with regard to thethe Covid-19 virus:a. It will have a resurgence. So far this has not really happened.b. So it’s very dangerous to send kids back to school, or to reopen businesses with face to face contact. Schools have reopened now in Florida without the dreaded upsurge predicted, as have restaurants and hair salons. The developing vaccines will either not work or will have dangerous side-effects. We will have to wait on this one, but I am willing to take a dose of vaccine when one is released. d. We can never again hug or shake hands. I have been hugging folks and shaking hands with no ill effect for several weeks. In addition, I have been careful to wash my hands well before eating.e. Our economy will never recover. This also remains to be seen; however, some are predicting we will be back to pre-pandemic economic levels by early 2021.

The person of faith wants to focus on their faith in God and not innews casters. The person of faith daily puts on the whole armor of God (Eph 6): the shoes of the Gospel of Peace; the belt of Truth; the breastplate of Righteousness; the helmet of Salvation; the shield of Faith, and the sword of the Spirit. The person of faith recalls 2 Cor 10:3-5àFor though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. The person of faith recites, in Jesus’ name, No weapon formed against us will prosper/prevail (Isa 54:17).

Israel has long celebrated God’s rescue of His people in the story of the Exodus.  The freed Hebrew slaves directly experienced God as their Way-maker, Promise-Keeper, Miracle-Worker, and Light-in-the-Darkness.  And if we ponder it long enough, we will have to admit that we have probably too.  Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

Copyright 2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams