Cooking the Books

Pastor Sherry’s message for 9/18/2022

Scriptures: Jer 8:18-9:1; Ps 79:1-9; 1 Tim 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

Remember “Cliff Notes”? Back in the day before computers and the internet, if you were assigned a novel you dreaded to read—like Silas Marner or Moby Dick, you could get one of these little black and yellow booklets and learn what you needed to from them. No telling how many people have successfully made it through high school or college English classes by consulting Cliff Notes. They would reveal to you the themes and subthemes, what the major characters represented (if they were symbolic), the setting, the tone and the genre of the book, etc.–enough so that you could pass a test on the required reading without really reading it. I guess the internet has put Cliff Notes out of business.

Nevertheless, today—since I want to focus on the Gospel lesson–I am going to begin by giving you the Cliff Notes version of our other three readings. They are too valuable to skip over.


A. In Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, the prophet is actually weeping over what the Lord has told him will be the capture and deportation of Judah. The prophet knows his apostate countrymen and women will wonder why Jerusalem is sacked and the Temple destroyed. They believed God would never allow this to happen, no matter their behavior. They missed that our God does not revere buildings. He loves the people who worship Him inside the buildings. So, because they no longer believe in God, they will not understand they are being punished for their idolatry and faithlessness.

Both due to their spiritual adultery—despite all his warnings to the contrary–and due to his identification with their distress, Jeremiah grieves over them.

B. Asaph, the author of Psalm 79, is aware that God has used the Babylonians to punish His wayward Judean Chosen People. He begs God to forgive and restore the nation. He also asks God to bring judgment against Babylon, a pagan nation (v.6) …pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you. How ironic that God often uses non-believing nations to discipline His chosen (Pagan Assyrians carted off the Northern Kingdom in 722BC, for example.) Finally, in verse 9, he begs God to …help us Oh God our Savior, for the glory of Your name.

C. Paul advises Timothy (and us) to pray for national leaders, whether we like them or not. YIKES! We have been praying weekly that corrupt and dishonest leaders be replaced by ethical, God-loving ones; but I confess I have been remiss in praying for the folks in that first category. OOPS! Paul says we are to do so in order that the Gospel continues to spread into the world; and because God does not wish for anyone to perish. Remember John 3:16 for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in His shall not perish but have eternal life. God loves everyone, unconditionally. But the gift of eternal life is conditioned on believing in Jesus.

Much more could be made about all three of these passages, but I have given you the gist, the Cliff Notes version.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the Gospel lesson assigned for today, Luke 16:1-13, the Parable of the Crooked Steward. It directly follows the parable of the Prodigal Son. Remember how the younger son asked for his inheritance early and squandered it all? Well, this crooked steward—we would probably call him a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) today—has mismanaged his boss’ accounts, and misappropriated his boss’ profits.

We’ve heard of this happening all too often, haven’t we (the Enron scandal and the housing debacle of 2008, etc.)?

The story is told of a man who was interviewing candidates for an accounting job… When the first man came in, the interviewer asked, “OK, what’s two plus two?” The candidate replied, “Four,” and the interview was over. Same thing happened with the next man. But the third candidate, when asked the same question, stood up and locked the door. He closed the blinds, then leaned over the desk and asked, “How much do you want it to be?”

(Borrowed from a sermon by Rev. Timothy Archer, “Bad Books, Good Lessons,” Feb. 15, 2004).

I worked on my doctorate at Florida State University from 1986-1989. In my final year, I saw student clients at the university’s counseling students. Among them were several accounting majors from the College of Business—one of the most difficult majors at FSU at that time. Now this was in the days prior to internet searches, and students were often required to search out and read important research articles in professional journals. I asked one of the librarians then how many journals the library subscribed to and was told 40,000. These monthly or quarterly scholarly works were bound into volumes by year and you had to physically go to the stacks and search them out. Because accounting was such a competitive major, some students–to thwart their student rivals–would use razor blades to remove the relevant articles from the library’s reserved sources. I remember thinking at the time that (a) I would not want one of the guilty parties to be my accountant; and (b) why we would wonder that some professionals have no integrity.

But back to our parable: The boss gets wind of the fact that the CFO has “cooked the books” and cans him. Interestingly, he isn’t immediately escorted out of his office, with his parking pass confiscated and his computer codes changed. Instead, the boss tells him to prepare for a financial audit. The crook knows his fraudulent practices will soon be uncovered.

So, what’s the Crooked CFO to do? He shrewdly decides he needs to convince those who owe the boss money that he is on their side. They may not even be aware he is crook. Nevertheless, he offers to discount what they owe the company. Perhaps he had inflated what they owed to begin with (pocketing the difference), but he now reduces one guy’s bill by 50%, and another’s by 20%. Every bit helps, right? Wouldn’t we all love to have someone cut our grocery bill by 50% or our gas bill by 20%? He seems to think these fellows will remember him kindly once the boss has sacked him. They might hire him—not as an accountant it is to be hoped–so that he doesn’t have to dig ditches or wave traffic around road construction sites.

Now Jesus surprisingly commends the dude! Don’t you want to say to Jesus, “But Lord, he’s a crook!” However, Jesus isn’t commending him for being dishonest. This is a parable of contrast, like the how much more stories Jesus tells:

1.) If the unjust judge will give a powerless widow woman justice, how much more will the Lord do?

2.) If a son asks for an egg, will his earthly father give him a scorpion? How much more then will his heavenly father provide?

3.) If the grouchy neighbor will give his friend bread at midnight, how much more generously will our heavenly father respond?

4.) If the earthly father celebrates his prodigal son’s return, how much will our heavenly father celebrate our return to Him?

Jesus commends the guy—not for being a shyster but for investing in relationships (with those who owe the boss) instead of monetary greed. We don’t know if he truly underwent a lasting attitude adjustment. But consider what William Barclay has to say about him in his commentary:

“If only the Christian was as eager and ingenious in his attempt to attain goodness as the man of the world is in his attempt to attain money and comfort, he would be a much better man.”

(William Barclay. The Gospel of Luke. The Daily Bible Study Series, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975, p. 208.)

Our God wants us to passionately pursue doing the right thing toward others. Jesus also commends the guy for trusting in the merciful nature of his boss. Remember, the Prodigal Son’s trust in his father’s grace and mercy compelled him to return home. Jesus is following up that parable by demonstrating that we can trust in our God’s compassion for us.

Martin Luther once wrote, That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself, I say, is really your God. Others have suggested we need only review our bank account expenditures to see what we value most. We need to be mindful of loving God above all things, even money! Like this shyster steward–once he knew he was in trouble–we need to invest more in relationships with others than in lining our own pockets, cooking someone’s books, or taking care of ourselves first, and maybe only.

Jesus goes on to say that we cannot serve God and money! He never said no one could become wealthy. You can clearly be a Christian and make money. I once sat on a plane next to a guy from a well-known, Christian financial ministry. He told me that making money is a gift from God. It is a gift that most people lack. He has had rich men approach him, desiring to leave off making money to become a member of his ministry. He said he tells them to keep on making money, since it is such a rare gift, but plough the excess into ministries for others. Do you remember Rick Warren’s books, The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church (2002)? Pastor Warren made millions on these two books. He asked God what to do with the proceeds. He did not trade in his old car for a Mercedes or a Lexus; he did not buy a new, bigger house; instead, he told his church to no longer pay him a salary, kept a small portion for his family’s needs, and put the rest into 5 ministries: One for breast cancer research (his wife had breast cancer); one for aids research; and 3 others dedicated to raising up Christian leaders in Africa. So you see, you can make money but you cannot let a love for money take the place of God in your life.

Additionally Jesus implied that if we are faithful stewards of what He gives us, He will give us more. It’s a paradox, isn’t it? If we don’t think God is very generous towards us, we may want to consider how generous we are toward Him and towards others. If we want God to be generous toward us, we must be generous toward others as well. Amen!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

True Disciples

Pastor Sherry’s message for September 4, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 18:1-11; Ps 139:1-18; Philemon 1-21; Lk 14:25-33

Back in the 1980’s, when I was first coming into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I looked to a set of commentaries to help me understand the New Testament. I had been asked to lead a women’s Bible Study and knew I needed help with understanding the difficult passages. My parish priest (I was an Episcopalian at the time) suggested I consult William Barclay’s commentaries. Rev. Dr. William Barkley, was a minister in the Church of Scotland and lived from 1907-1978. At that time, his volumes were paperback books with distinctive blue, green, or pink covers, each one explaining a given book of the Bible. Since I knew next to nothing—and my church had the whole set—I was grateful to delve into them.

Over time, however—and as my faith deepened—I began to see some problems. First, Barclay didn’t believe in the miracles of Jesus and, as a student of the Enlightenment, attempted to explain them away with science. In my heart of hearts, I knew this couldn’t be. The Gospel of Mark certifies that Jesus had power over nature, including the laws of nature; the supernatural, including angels and demons; and both physical illness and mental infirmity. Even more impressive, He had the authority to forgive sins and to bring dead people back to life. I loved Barclay’s wisdom and knowledge, but I began to believe his concept of God was too limited. I knew then (and now) that I wanted a God who is powerful enough to alter the very laws of nature that He has put into place. I wanted a God who can truly do …immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)—and we have Him!

Secondly, I also discovered Barclay must have been what is known as a dispensationalist. These folks believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were given for a specific era, which ended before our time; that is, the miraculous works Jesus and the apostles did (healing, raising people from the dead, etc.) ended upon their deaths. But I have witnessed and experienced miracles of healing and perhaps you have too—these gifts are not passé.

Nevertheless, I would never suggest we dismiss all that Barclay had to say. Among many wise things he wrote, I believe his distinction between being a disciple and a follower of Christ is both profound and accurate:

It is possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple: to be a camp follower without being a soldier of the king; to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one’s weight. Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, ‘So and so tells me that he was one of your students.’ The teacher answered devastatingly, ‘He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.’ There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. It is one of the supreme handicaps of the Church that in the Church there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples.

(Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.162.)

I believe this is the consistent message of our Scripture passages today. All four lessons assigned for today are variations on a common theme: True Discipleship.

A. Our OT lesson is from Jeremiah (18:1-11). God has the prophet draw Judah’s attention to the work of a potter. Then, as now, potters worked moist clay on a wheel. As the wheel spun, the potter would use his hands to shape the clay into a bowl or pot to then be fired/hardened in a kiln. The image of a potter with wet clay is a metaphor for God’s relationship with them then and with us now. If the clay (us) is malleable, then the potter (God) can mold and shape according to His plan.

The power of the Potter is absolute! He has a plan/purpose as He works in and with us. Interestingly, He can rework pots or vessels that turn out wrong or are flawed. If we allow Him to do so, He has the power to shape us into vessels of honor. What a wonderful thought! But, this requires us to be totally cooperative and totally committed. Christ’s disciples say “yes” to this process. Barclay would suggest that distant Christ-followers, however, tend to walk their own way, paying little attention to what Jesus might desire of them daily.

A true disciple, then seeks out and cooperates with the will of our Potter.

B. Psalm 139:1-18 gives us a perfect rationale for surrendering our will to that of our Lord. In verses 1-4 He has searched us and He knows us. He knows who we are. He knows our thoughts. He knows what we intend to say before we say it. He knows our behavior too—what we are up to. Additionally, in verses 5-11, we learn there is nowhere that we can run to escape Him or His knowledge of us. He is omniscient, and also omnipresent. Where-ever we may go, He will be there too. He is the “with us” God, Immanuel. And, in verses 13-16, the psalmist declares: He made us (knit me [us] together in my [our] mother’s womb). He thought each one of us up and called us into being, regardless of what our parents planned. He ordained how long we would live. And He ordained a plan and a purpose for each of us.

This psalm assures us that God knows us, is with us, and has a plan and purpose for each one of us. Doesn’t it just make so much sense for us to want to fall into step with God’s plan? Those of us who have ignored God’s plan for our lives, and walked our own way, know from hard experience that pathway leads to turmoil and trouble. Again, you know you are a disciple—not just a follower—when you surrender to God’s plans for your life.

C. Philemon is such a beautiful little book! Paul is in prison, waiting to be executed, but he takes the time to write a dear friend in Christ. Paul had disciple Philemon, who now has a house-church meeting in his home. Paul, as Philemon’s mentor, could have demanded that he allow Onesimus, Philemon’s former slave, to remain free. But instead, Paul blesses him and entreats him to accept Onesimus back as a freed man. He is asking Philemon—out of love for Paul and as a disciple of Christ—to be obedient to Jesus. Scholars speculate that the population of the Roman Empire was about 120,000; 60,000 of those were slaves. Slavery was very common then. As people were conquered, they were enslaved. Nevertheless, Jesus had said in John 8:36: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Jesus would want Philemon to allow Onesimus to remain free, as the former slave is now his brother-in-Christ. This is no longer an economic or a political issue, but a moral and a spiritual one. True disciples do not hold on to the things of this world, but rather seek to please the Sovereign King of this world.

D. Finally, Jesus, in today’s Gospel lesson (Luke14:25-33) draws our attention to the cost of discipleship. Believers or followers should think ahead of committing themselves to being disciples, as the cost is high.

Nothing is to come before Jesus in our hearts–not spouses, children, parents, siblings, or self. Jesus is stating a strong contrast for effect. He does not really mean we have to hate these relationships. There is a place for them in our lives; but all of them should take a distant back seat to Jesus.

Just as a builder considers his/her resources before planning construction, and just as a king considers his resources before engaging in battle, so too must we estimate or count the cost. My son is a structural engineer in business by himself. He is now reconfiguring what he calls “boomerang” plans. He had designed, signed and sealed the plans, but the contractor then complained that he/she could not locate the materials called for—due to supply chain issues–or that the materials specified—due to inflation—were no longer financially feasible. The plans were then returned for my son to redesign with cheaper or more readily available materials substituted for the original ones. Back in Jesus’ day, builders tended to know the cost of wood and bricks for home building. But, even so, a home owner would need to estimate the cost of construction and have the money and building materials at hand before beginning a building project.

The point is, if you can’t commit all, then remain a believer, a follower.

But being Christ’s disciple, a true disciple, means being willing to give all of one’s self to the effort, including carrying a cross.

True disciples, then,

(1.) Allow God to mold and shape us.

(2.) Understand that since God made us, knows us, and knows all things, it makes good sense to cooperate with His plan for our lives.

(3.) Learn to “let go and let God”; or to honor God’s will over our own.

(4.) Have thought through the potential cost, and then commit to Christ no matter what.

Are we willing to do these things? Consider the following old illustration:

A hog and a hen sharing the same barnyard heard about a church’s program to feed the hungry. The hog and the hen discussed how they could help. The hen said, “I’ve got it! We’ll provide bacon and eggs for the church to feed the hungry.” The hog thought about the suggestion and said, “There’s one problem with your bacon and eggs solution. For you, it only requires a contribution, but from me, it will mean total commitment!” That’s the cost of true discipleship. (Source unknown.)

Let’s pray: Lord, you are asking of us a difficult thing. We want to be more than just Christ-followers or believers in Jesus. We desire to be Jesus’ disciples. Give us the grace and the courage to do so. Help us to trust in You and to let go our control over our lives and give it to You. We pray this in the precious and efficacious name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Watchman’s Challenge

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 17, 2022

Scriptures: Amos 8:1-12; Ps 52; Col 1:15-28; Lk 10:38-42

Last week, I encouraged us to become like “watchmen” on the walls surrounding our country. By this I meant “Prayer Warriors” for the USA. We looked at Amos, chapter 7, and recognized how America—like ancient Israel—is out of alignment with the Lord. Amos’ image, given to him by God, was that of a plumb line. It is a simple device (a string with a weight at the end will do) to help insure a straight vertical line for a wall, or for hanging wallpaper. I’ve seen cabinet installers use laser beams to ensure they set the cabinets in straight; the laser is a new form of plumb line.) The prophet was telling the Northern Kingdom that they were out of plumb with God. Citing a number of examples, we could see where our country, too, is currently out of plumb with God.

This week, in Amos 8:1-12, God gives His prophet the image of ripe fruit. Ripe fruit is fruit taken at its peak. Prior to ripening, it is too sour or too hard to eat. By the same token, you don’t want to let ripe fruit sit around for very long. It gets mushy, brown, or soggy—it spoils; it also attracts fruit flies. God is saying to Israel that “the time is ripe” for them.

Either they change their sinful ways and return to sincere worship of God; or God will no longer spare them. This was God’s final image of warning to them in the book of Amos.

Again, I think this is a very relevant message for us in America today. Like with the Northern Kingdom, many Americans don’t worship the One, True God anymore. And some who do are only going through the motions: God condemned the Israelites for thinking about their businesses while at worship. What do we think about while here in church together? Are we focused on the Lord, or on what we’ll have for lunch after? What we might do later?

The Israelites were infamous at that time for corrupt business practices: Skimping on the quantity—providing less of what was wanted for the same or a larger price; inflating the price; cheating with dishonest scales (and other measures); and buying the poor (with silver or for a pair of sandals.) We tend not to think of ourselves as buying the poor, but what about engaging in sex trafficking, buying the sexual use of someone’s body. And while we no longer have debtors’ prisons, we do have a staggering number of homeless persons who cannot afford to live in today’s economy. It appears as though a surprising number of folks in America don’t realize that God sees all and knows all, and intends to hold them (us) accountable. In vv.7-10, God reminds Israel (and us) The Lord has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.” The Pride of Jacob is a poetic name for the yet to come Jesus (as predicted by Amos around 750 BC). God is swearing by His Son, Jesus, that He will not forget their corrupt deeds (He sees and remembers all evil acts). If the Father makes a vow based on His Son, is there any question that He means to abide by it? No!

I have heard people joke about going to hell: they say they intend to party with all their friends who they think will be there too. YIKES! This is no joking matter! Humans in hell will not be partying! They will be eternally separated from God, as well as from any of their godly friends and relatives. Worse yet, they will experience unending, everlasting torment at the hand of demons who hate God and God’s people. This is not something to aspire to, even glibly.

Amos ends the passage with predictions of what is to come in the end times (the 7 year Great Tribulation): (1) There will be massive earthquakes. (2) Sunlight will be limited to ½ a day. (3) Those who rejoice now will be weeping then, in mourning, wishing they had chosen to follow Jesus while there was yet time. (4) And there will be a famine of hearing God’s Word.

Back then, God sent no more prophets, after Malachi, to declare His word for the 400 years remaining before Jesus’ birth and the appearance of John the Baptist. It appears that even now the Lord has lifted His hand of protection from us, so that we are already experiencing …an increase of evil (as predicted by Jesus in Matthew 24:12).

If this alarms you, be at peace as our remaining Scriptures today are all very encouraging.

A. Our Psalm 52 describes King David’s fearless confidence in God when he was attacked by an arrogant and wicked enemy king. In vv.1-4, he declares there is no reason for evil ones to boast as God will bring them down. John Lawrence, in his book Down to Earth, reports how a city of wicked and sacrilegious people dared God to show Himself:

“On December 25, 1908—Jesus’ Birthday–a newspaper published in Messina, Sicily, printed a parody against God, daring Him to make Himself known by sending an earthquake. Three days later, on December 28, the city and its surrounding district was devastated by a terrible quake that killed 84,000 people.” (Cited in Today in the Word, October, 1997, p. 25). This foolish city went too far. They incurred the wrath of God. We can only hope that God separated out the scoffers and blasphemers for judgment and spared the righteous. At any rate, He clearly remembered their arrogance and their unbelief.

King David goes on to assert (vv.6-7) that the righteous will be ultimately vindicated–which David was, again and again. And those of us who love Jesus will be too. Verses 8-9 conclude with David asserting that he will trust in the Lord—an encouragement for us to do likewise.

B. In Colossians 1:15-28, Paul makes his case for the supremacy of Christ. Why should the believer trust in Jesus? Because Jesus…(1) created all things; (2) is set apart from and is superior to all created things; (3) holds all of creation together (Science has discovered that all human and animal connective tissue has at its heart a substance called lamina. This substance appears in cell bodies in it the shape of a cross. Literally, the Cross of Christ holds our bodies together. (4) He is the head of His body, the Church; and (5) because God had Jesus reconcile all things to the Father. (6) Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Father now looks at those of us who love His Son through the eyes of Christ. He forgives us our failings. He offers us grace, love, and mercy.

C. Our Gospel lesson (Luke 10:38-42) records Jesus’ interactions with Mary and Martha. God bless her, Martha is focused on the task of creating a meal for our Lord. Mary, her sister, has abandoned the task to deepen her relationship with Jesus. Jesus reassures Martha that she is not to worry, while affirming Mary’s focus on Him and His teaching. This is a lesson for each of us, too, isn’t it? We don’t want to be invested in doing things for God without spending time investing in our relationship with Him daily.

God’s judgment is coming for America, just as it did for ancient Israel. But we still have time to get right with our Lord: First, we can trust in Him…as a God who protects and defends those who love Him; because of Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross for our sakes; and because He desires a deep relationship with each one of us.

Last week, I encouraged us to stand as watchmen (and watchwomen), praying daily for our country to turn back to God.

This week, I challenge us to pray daily for America. We want to do this because we love the USA. We want to do this because prayer– and the ballot box–are the only means we have for encouraging a national return to Christ. Consider this story from Stuart Strachan, Jr., about Babe Ruth, the great professional baseball player from 1914—1935. For those not familiar with “the Babe,” he hit 714 home runs in his career, and was responsible for bringing another 2, 214 runners in to score. He also contributed to a phenomenal 12 World’s Series wins:

Most of us have heard of Babe Ruth, but have you ever heard of Babe Pinelli? Pinelli was an umpire in Major League Baseball who once called The Great Bambino (Ruth) out on strikes. When the crowd began booing in disapproval of the call, Babe turned to the umpire and said “There’s 40,000 people here who know that the last pitch was a ball.” The coaches and players braced for a swift ejection, but instead, Pinelli responded coolly, “Maybe so, Babe, but mine is the only opinion that counts.”

In life it’s easy to get caught up in the opinions of others, but in the end, it’s not our scoffers or critics by whom we will be judged. The Only Opinion That Matters is God’s.

God may be ready to “lower the boom” on America. Whether His judgment comes tomorrow or 5 or 20 years from now, we should not be afraid. Instead, we are to be faithful until Christ returns. Instead, we need to function as praying watchmen as we wait and watch to see what God does.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

God Hates Pride (Proverbs 16:18)

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 3, 2022

Scriptures: 2 Kgs 5:1-19; Ps 30; Galatians 6:1-16; Lk 10:1-20

The following is a true story. I shared this with you some years back, but it’s a good one that I think is worth another hearing:

A Granny-lady from Florida approached her car and was shocked to see two men sitting in it. She pulled her pistol out of her pocket-book, pointed it at them, and said, “I have a gun and I know how to use it! Get out of the car!” They immediately jumped out of the car and ran like mad! Relieved—and somewhat proud—she put her key in the ignition only to find it did not fit. Looking around in frustration, she then saw her own car several spaces away (You know how all silver or white SUV’s look the same!) Later, a booking Sargent at the local police station doubled over, laughing, as the 2 pale men reported a car-jacking by a “crazed, white-haired elderly woman, Caucasian, 5’ tall, wearing glasses, and carrying a large handgun. When questioned, the granny pleaded a “senior moment;” No charges were filed.

This is a funny story, isn’t it? It’s amusing precisely because it’s unexpected. The woman had to admit she was wrong—some find this very hard to do. The men were smart to remove themselves quickly. This is the kind of thing that their family and friends probably teased them about later. The lady was elderly. She was no doubt smaller and frailer than either one of them, but they wisely recognized her power differential. They were not too proud to run.

Our Old Testament and Gospel lessons today both demonstrate our Lord’s view of human pride. Let’s look at them together.

2 Kings 5:1-19 relates the story of Naaman, the Syrian general.

We begin in the year 852 BC. Israel and Syria (Aram) had been at war for most of that decade. At the time of this passage, they are enjoying an uneasy truce. Naaman was the very competent commander of the Syrian armies. He had the respect of his King, Ben Haddad II. He was viewed by those who knew him as an honorable man, an effective leader, and a valiant warrior. But he was also afflicted with leprosy. In Israel, he would have had to have quit the military to live in seclusion. Gentiles, however, did not tend to separate out those with skin diseases in those days. Did he actually have Hansen’s Disease, or what we today call “Leprosy?” Scholars are not sure. He may have had a chronic skin rash, like eczema or psoriasis, or even some sort of allergic reaction, like hives. Whatever the cause, he was dogged by this condition and apparently seemed eager to acquire a healing. He learns from his wife, who has a Hebrew slave girl, that there is a prophet in Israel, Elisha, to whom he could go to ask for his healing. So we have a proud, accomplished, but desperate man going along with the suggestion of a little slave girl.

His King gives him leave to go to Israel. He carries with him a letter saying words to the effect that, Here’s my general who comes in peace.…He also brings along a generous payment: 750# of silver; 150# of gold; and 10 sets of clothing. Relying on the usual diplomatic channels (go to the king 1st), he presents himself to the Joram, the King of Israel. Joram is Ahab’s and Jezebel’s son (he ruled 11 years, from 852-841BC. He was not as evil as his father and mother, but also not a true believer in God. King Joram freaks out when this very successful, powerful enemy warrior shows up! Joram, in his panic, forgets Elisha. He mistakenly believes Naaman expects him to heal him, saying Am I God? He is afraid his inability to effect a healing will become a reason to break off diplomatic relations and will precipitate a renewal of war. He tears his garments not in grief, but in frustration and despair. Elisha hears of the General’s visit (the Northern Kingdom was a small country).

Elisha chides the king (verse 8) Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know there is a prophet in Israel. Joram should have prayed, rather than freaking out! He should have called upon the prophet as God’s spokesperson.

In verse 9, Chariots blazing, Naaman arrives at Elisha’s like a rock star! He has the retinue, the diplomatic power, and the wealth of a famous person. He proudly expects to be treated quickly and effectively. But, God intends to heal him as well as to humble him: (1.) The prophet does not even come to greet him, or to offer the barest of hospitality—water, oil, a kiss of greeting; (2.) He instead sends him a message by a servant (v.10) Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed: The grand man feels disrespected! He was used to being accorded what we refer to today as “all due respect.” He was expecting some religious ceremony (verse 11) I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. And why should he wash in the piddley, muddy Jordan when there are cleaner, clearer, grander rivers in Damascus? He explodes into a fit of temper!

Notice that once again, a servant intervenes. Trusted underlings urge restraint and obedience: (verse 13) …if the prophet had said do some great thing, would you not have done it? So, in verse 14 he obediently and humbly washes 7 times in the Jordan and is cleansed/healed of his skin disease. Naaman then praises God (verse 15a) Now I know there is no God in all the world except in Israel. The great man has been humbled. He now has some new attitudes and has taken on some new behaviors.

His obedience, not the prophet’s ritual, had led to his healing. He was healed when he put aside his pride, his prejudice (against the Jordan), his preconceived notions (the prophet must perform some sort of ritual); and his pushback against simplicity. He was healed when he decided to trust in what his servants told him about the Hebrew God. He suddenly became so devoted to the God of the Hebrews that he carts back a wagon-load of Israelite soil to Syria. Many ancient peoples believed their gods were territorial, to be powerful only on their own soil. He does not yet know that the Hebrew God is God of all the earth, unlimited by country boundary-lines. And he promises that when he has to attend his king in Baal-worship, he will instead be praying in secret to the One True God. Naaman has been healed, humbled, and converted.

Our Gospel lesson today is from Luke 10:1-20 and it reveals a lesson similar to that of our passage from 2 Kings. 72 disciples are sent out in pairs to preach, teach, heal and deliver folks from demons. Jesus tells them to go where they are received (the way has been prepared); and to depend entirely on God for their provision. They come back rejoicing in their success, even over demons. There is a natural tendency to rejoice in our successes, isn’t there? But Jesus reminds them that they belong to God; that is, they are doing God’s work through the power of His Holy Spirit. We don’t want to get “the big head,” thinking our successes in ministry come from our own efforts.

Jesus then goes on to prophecy the future judgment of 3 Jewish communities: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Unlike Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon, they have each had the opportunity to see Jesus and witness His teachings, healings, and miracles. Nevertheless, He knows they will have each rejected Him following His death on the Cross. As He says, rejecting Him is the same as rejecting God the Father. This is a case of hanging onto human pride (I know what is best for me.), leads to losing an opportunity for salvation.

Our God hates human pride: We are to put it to death. We are to stomp it out in ourselves. We are to smother or crush it. We are to be humble. Someone has once said, “Pride is the difference between what you are and what you think you are.”

It turns out that Samuel Morse was originally a painter of some renown. He was painting a portrait out of town when his wife became ill. Sadly she died before he’d even learned of her illness. Heartbroken, he set aside his painting and dedicated himself to developing a means of communicating, rapidly, over great distances. He eventually invented both the telegraph and the means to transmit messages on it, Morse Code. Even though he became very famous for these inventions, he remained humble, saying, “I have made a valuable application of electricity not because I was superior to other men but solely because God, who meant it for mankind, must reveal it to someone and He was pleased to reveal it to me.” Morse had the right heart attitude.

Consider the following poem by A. Dudley Dennison, Jr.:

Sometime when you are feeling important,

Sometime when your ego’s way up;

Sometime when you take it for granted

That you are the prize-winning “pup”;

Sometime when you feel that your absence

Would leave an unfillable hole,

Just follow these simple instructions,

And see how it humbles your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water,

Put your hand in it up to your wrist.

Now pull it out fast and the hole that remains

Is the measure of how you’ll be missed.

You may splash all you please as you enter,

And stir up the water galore,

But STOP and you’ll find in a minute,

It’s back where it was before.

Borrowed from Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.467).

Let us Pray: Lord, we humbly ask You to help us to give God the glory for whatever we do of merit. We also ask, in Jesus’ name, that You would please save us all from the sin of pride! Amen!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Worn Out and Done In

Pastor Sherry’s message for 6/19/2022

Scriptures: 1 Kings 19:1-18; Ps 42; Gal 3:23-29; Lk 8:26-39

What do we do when we are worn out and done in? Tired of carrying on? “On our last nerve”? Ready to “throw in the towel”? Frustrated and defeated? Out of our minds with anguish, or fear?

Our Old Testament lesson this morning, 1 Kings 19:1-18, presents us with just such a situation, and God’s rather surprising response.

The prophet, Elijah, has just enjoyed a miraculous victory over the false prophets of Baal. But then word comes to him that Queen Jezebel, a Baal-worshiper, has sworn to kill him for showing up her pagan priests.

Someone once said, Yesterday’s victories will not help you in tomorrow’s battles. (quoted by Delmer Chilton and John Fairless, The Lectionary Lab: Year C, 2015, p.217). Realizing she is a nasty, powerful, and vindictive woman, Elijah temporarily loses his religion and runs for his life. Without consulting the God he serves, he flees, then spends some time in the wilderness thinking over his situation, and decides he has had it with being a prophet. The life of a prophet is a difficult one. If you have ever been the truth speaker in a corrupt system, a badly run enterprise, or a vindictive clique, you know that truth-tellers (today we call them “whistle-blowers,” and they are protected by law) suffer. Later on, Jesus will famously say of the religious leaders of Jerusalem (Matt 23:37) O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you….

So Elijah is burnt out, depressed, and done in, afraid for his life, and hopes to turn in his prophet’s credentials. When he finally talks to the Lord, he tells Him he would just as soon die as continue on. Notice what God does: God does not engage him in a “pity party,” reviewing and recounting with him his troubles. Instead, He sends him supernatural sustenance and deep, recuperative sleep. The divine menu is so nutritious, and the rest so restorative, that Elijah is able to travel to a mountain, on foot, 40 days’ distant. He locates a cave in Mt. Horeb and settles in to wait on God.

God meets him there and curiously—since God knows everything—asks him (v.9) What are you doing here, Elijah? This is similar to when God asked Adam and Eve, after they sinned, Where are you? Had God really lost Adam and Eve in the garden? No. He wanted to see if they would admit their sin to Him. God knows what Elijah is doing there, so He must be waiting to see if Elijah can figure it out for himself. Elijah asserts he has been zealous in doing God’s work, but has encountered a bunch of serious trouble as a result. God then reveals Himself to him, not in the great things (ferocious wind, earthquake, and fire, usually signs of God’s judgment) but in a still, small whisper. After revealing Himself, God asks the same question again, (v.13) What are you doing here, Elijah? Notice again that the Lord really doesn’t respond to Elijah’s litany of troubles.

Instead, He wants Elijah to refocus on his calling. He reconfirms his calling, and sends Elijah back to do the work of a prophet: (1) He is to anoint two kings, Hazael (over Syria, a non-believing nation), and Jehu (in Ahab’s place, over Israel)—just as the prophet Samuel anointed King Saul and later, King David. A time will come when the Lord will tell Jehu to destroy Ahab’s dynasty (2 Kings 9:1-16), though Elijah will not be there to see it take place. And he is (2) to anoint his prophet successor, Elisha. Surprisingly, God appears to accept Elijah’s resignation. He reminds the prophet that He has reserved in Israel a remnant of 7,000 who love and worship Him.

What are the lessons we might take from this passage? First, God knows our struggles, our disappointments, our discouragement, our despair. Initially He may seem absent, but then He goes on to minister to our physical and psychological needs, restoring us, strengthening us. He often then reaffirms that to which He has called us.

As a single woman for over 40 years now, I have found the Lord always comes to my rescue economically, when I am down to my last few dollars. When I first hung out my shingle as a psychologist in 1991, I quickly found that if I needed $175 to pay my light bill, that amount is exactly what I made that day. He was teaching me to depend upon Him and He hasn’t failed me yet. Second, we may have come to the end of our rope, but God’s resources are vast and sufficient for our needs.

The journey God has us on is too great for us.

Elijah and we need the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and uphold us. We are overcomers by the blood of the Lamb. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Third, even if we think we are outnumbered by evil-doers and are the only ones we know who still love Jesus, we can trust that there are many others as yet unknown to us—and that God’s got us!.

Psalm 42 contains the heart cry of someone who feels alone and abandoned by God. Now we know we worship the “with us” God, Emmanuel. He never leaves or forsakes us. He has promised to be with us until the end of the age. So, like Elijah, even though we might fear the Lord has abandoned us, He has not. In verse 5, the psalmist asks himself why he is so bereft Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Then he provides his own antidote: Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.

If we ever feel like God has abandoned us, we have only to think deeply about the times in our past when He has been there for us. God does not change. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. We can also remember that Jesus has said (Matthew 16:18 on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.

Galatians 3:23-29 reminds us that we will never be abandoned by God because we are sons [and daughters] of His. Because we are “in Christ” by believing in Him, we are clothed with His righteousness. There are no “woke” divisions, no outcasts due to wrong political leanings, and no racial differences. In verse 28, Paul so famously states There is neither Jew nor Greek [no exclusions due to race or ethnicity], slave nor free [no exclusions due economic status], male nor female [no exclusions due to biological gender], for you are all one in Christ Jesus. The only criterion for inclusion is our love of and belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Our Gospel (Luke 8:26-39) today cites another particular case of a man who cannot claim membership in Christ’s Church because he is completely taken over by demons. Jesus, like God the Father with Elijah, is very calm and accommodating to the Demoniac. The poor man lacks any control over his life. He lives in isolation—never a good idea. Like lions who go after the sick and the lame, lagging behind the herd, the evil one picks us off when we are out of Christian fellowship. Even though the townspeople had tried to restrain him with chains, he uses superhuman strength to break them. I have witnessed this in the seriously mentally ill. They are often strong enough to break the holds of husky hospital attendants. This guy is so out of it that he cannot even tell Jesus his name. The strongest demon in him says his name is “Legion” (there were 6,000 soldiers in a Roman legion), meaning he is plagued by multitudes of demonic spirits. But Jesus, Who has power even over hordes of violent demons, casts them all out of him into a nearby herd of pigs. The pigs then flee into the lake and drown. The demons are destroyed. The man is restored to his right mind. He wants to follow Jesus, but the Lord tells him (v.39) Return home and tell how much God has done for you. Jesus wants him to become an evangelist, and we can assume—in his gratitude—that he does.

We worship the God who sees us and who hears us. He knows when we have reached the end of our rope and are ready to let go.

Chuck Swindoll relates the following commentary: Perhaps you recall the book by Rabbi Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People? R. C. Sproul [a famous Presbyterian preacher from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1900’s] had a great answer for that. Someone asked him on one occasion, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” His answer was classic. He said, “I haven’t met any good people yet, so I don’t know.” (Quoted in Swindoll’s The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.578). Or as Paul has written, Is any one without sin? No not one (Romans 3:10) and (Romans 3:23)…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

I think our tough times are tests, and no one escapes having them.

They may be sent by the evil one to discourage us and turn us away from God, but it seems that God allows them as a means of deepening our faith and of molding and shaping our character.

Nevertheless, our God is also the divine rescuer. He rescues a war-weary prophet. He restores a man totally overrun with demons.

Because we are His sons and daughters, He hears the cries of our hearts and responds.

The next time we find ourselves in a place of suffering, let’s try to have the attitude of today’s psalmist, as paraphrased in modern English by Eugene Peterson in The Message, p.965 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.

©️2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

Grown-ups or Parents?

Pastor Sherry’s message for 3/27/2022,

Scriptures: Jos 5:9-12 ; Ps 32; 2 Cor 5:16-2; Lk 15:1-32

A 5 year old girl asks her mother, “Is God a grown-up or a parent?”

The mother wants to be sure she understands where the child is coming from, so she asks, “What’s the difference between a grown-up and a parent?” The child says, “Grown-ups love you when you are good, but parents love you anyway.” So, based on the child’s understanding, God is… a parent.

In our Gospel this morning, the Scribes and the Pharisees are grown-ups, aren’t they? They are the guardians of the do’s and the don’ts. They are the arbiters of good and bad behaviors. So, they separate themselves out from tax collectors, who they see as sell-outs to their Roman oppressors. The Romans had these folks gather taxes for Rome, and then slowed them to add whatever they wanted for themselves. The Jews knew Rome had thus unleashed foxes into the proverbial hen house, and resented it mightily. They also viewed tax collectors as collaborators with pagans. Pharisees and Scribes also avoided contact with sinners, fearing contamination. Now it is human nature, isn’t it, for us to try to figure out who’s in and who’s out; who’s “hot” and who’s not; or who’s “cool” and who’s a fool. So we can cut them some grace for just being people. But isn’t it true that we in the Church, if we are not careful, can also become grown-ups? Like the Scribes and Pharisees, we too often judge others and decide they come up short. These fellows are judging Jesus and are seriously questioning His “Good Person credentials.” (They are judging God. YIKES!)

Now I am going to depart from my usual practice of trying to explain what God is wooing or challenging us to do in each passage assigned for today. Instead, I want to focus on what Jesus, knowing their “grown-up hearts” is telling the Scribes and Pharisees-–and us–in 3 parables Luke groups together as stories regarding “the lost.”

It is no accident that the “God-figures”—the people who act like God– in these first two are low status folks: In the 1st parable, the religious elite would distain shepherds because they lived a nomadic, outdoor life (didn’t attend Synagogue regularly). And, often lacking water, or having to bandage up injured, bloody sheep, they were unable to keep the purity laws. In the 2nd, no self-respecting rabbi or Pharisee would either see or speak to a woman. That’s why Jesus talking with the woman of the well (John 4:1-42) was so radical. The disciples were speechless when they found Him alone with her; not only that, but the two were discussing serious theological issues. Women of that day were not allowed to go to rabbinical school, or to study Torah. Ben Sirach, a noted teacher of the time, wrote the birth of a daughter is a loss. Jewish men of Jesus’ time often thanked God each day that they had not been born a woman. This is also why Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50), was so put out that Jesus would allow a woman to touch Him (she washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair). Women in that day did not touch rabbis, and women of low reputation certainly did not dare.

The son in the 3rd parable had high status until he severely disrespected his father. He asked for his inheritance. Then as now, sons only inherited at the death of their father. Asking so early was tantamount to saying, “Father, I wish you were dead!” Fathers in the Ancient Near East had life/death control over their children. The younger son is the lowest status member of this family; thus, his request would have been viewed as especially despicable and selfish. Friends, neighbors, and relatives–had they known–would have expected the father to drive this greedy son away with yelling and with blows. They would have further expected the father to banish him from the family forever.

Given this cultural understanding, let’s look 1st at the Parable of the Lost Sheep. We are well familiar with this wonderful story, aren’t we? The shepherd, the Good Shepherd, values His one lost sheep enough to spare no effort to locate it. Did you ever wonder who was looking out for the 99? Maybe Jesus just said to them, “stay,” and they did. Or probably some assistant shepherd remained behind to watch over them. We don’t know what He goes through to locate the lost sheep, but only that He rejoices when He finds it. The fabulous point is that God loves us all enough to go to great lengths to find us, and rejoices when He does. Consider John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Through Jesus, God saved all. Not all appreciate this, so not all will claim their salvation by saying “yes” to Christ. Paul writes in 1 Tim 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…. John insists similarly in 1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as He [Jesus] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.

The truth is that our chief, most important identity is not our gender, race, nationality, credentials, or our status. It is that we are loved by God. If we have accepted Jesus, we are each children of God the Father and inheritors of His Kingdom through Christ Jesus. We are sinners redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ. Like St. Paul, we realize that before we ever did anything to merit God’s attention, regard, or affection, He loved us and desired intimate relationship with each of us. Our God is a loving parent, rather than a disapproving grown-up. So Jesus is saying to the Scribes and the Pharisees in this 1st parable, you should be like this Shepherd.

In the Parable of the Lost Coin, we find a female image to balance the (predominantly male) shepherd image, which is something St. Luke often tries to do (because Jesus did it). This good wife is perhaps searching for part of her dowry. The coin may have been set in a ring or an earring, or it may have belonged to a strand of coins worn across the forehead. The coin probably had high sentimental value to her. It may have been to her like losing the stone out of an engagement ring would feel to one of us. Or, alternatively, it might have been money given to her by her husband to buy necessities for their home. Those 10 coins probably represented 10 days’ income. She may have worried that losing it would demonstrate to her husband that she could not be trusted to be a good steward of their money. Whether dowry or income, she felt she needed to locate that missing coin.

Notice the lengths she goes to in order to locate the coin: She lights a lamp to see better. She sweeps what would have been a hard-packed dirt floor thoroughly. Like the Shepherd, she searches diligently. Consider, the sheep may have been found wounded or damaged somehow, but lost or found, the value of the coin is unaffected. Some of us may have believed we were without value before Christ came into our lives. That was me before God rescued me. My step-father never told me he loved me and my mother did not like women. YIKES! But when I learned my Heavenly Father loved me, I realized it almost didn’t matter that my earthly grown-ups (parental figures) did not. Or perhaps you feared that you had done so many bad things in your life so as to lessen your value to God. I have heard folks say they won’t come to church because they are such sinners that the roof of the building would fall in if they showed up. But this lost coin parable affirms that despite having been sinners in the past, Jesus Christ still values us. The roof would not cave in! As with the sheep, the search is on, the lost is found, and the woman rejoices.

This time, Jesus identifies with the woman. He is saying, I am like this woman. I diligently search for the lost. What about you, Scribes and Pharisees? And, as one of my seminary professors (Dr. Kenneth Bailey) said, in this parable and elsewhere in Luke, Jesus elevates the worth of women.

Now we come to the famous Parable of the Lost, or Prodigal Son. Let’s focus first on the Father’s Behaviors: Very unexpectedly (for the Ancient Near East), he offers grace to His greedy younger son. He doesn’t seem to take offense. Despite any pain over his son’s attitudes, he grants the request. He gives his son the freedom to leave town with his “inheritance check.” It’s helpful to know that this would diminish what the father and the elder son have left to live on. It’s also helpful to know that once word of this got around the village, the villagers would have wanted the son’s head (vigilante justice)! Remember the outcry against Queen Vasti, in the book of Esther? She refused to come when the King summoned her to his banquet. Even though the banqueters were all men, and even though they were probably all drunk and unpredictable after days of feasting and drinking, Vasti’s refusal shamed the king before his subjects. The other nobles pressured the King to “de-queen” her because they feared her “disrespect” would be a bad example to other married women in the empire. If they had known, the villagers may have feared a similar contagion effect. Already we notice this Father is more magnanimous than anyone then would have expected a Father to be. Jesus’ listeners would no doubt have been shocked.

Now let’s consider the Son’s Behaviors: He runs through his father’s money. He’s reduced to starvation. In desperation, he develops a plan return home and throw himself on his dad’s mercy.

Let’s shift back again to the Father’s Response: He watches for his son! He knows his son and probably suspects he’ll have spent it all. He wants to see him again, but also to reach the young man before the villagers get ahold of him. He runs to meet him! This would have totally shocked the Pharisees. Ancient Near Eastern patriarchs did not run! They moved at a slow and stately pace as befit their status. In addition, any exposure of the Father’s legs while running would have been considered shameful. The father deliberately risks ridicule and humiliation to reach his son.

When he reaches his lost son, he embraces and kisses him. Village observers would have expected the son to fall on his face and kiss his father’s feet.

But sonny-boy barely starts his apology when the father offers, “a costly demonstration of his unexpected love” (Do you hear a whisper, an intimation of the Cross?) Through His saving, redeeming love, the Father receives his lost son (us) back into the family. He honors him with the best robe, signifying cleansing and honor; he provides him a signet ring, indicating trust; he sees to covering his bare feet with shoes, a symbol of self-respect. Then he throws a celebratory party! The Father is delighted that his son has returned home. But, as Dr. Bailey taught, “The banquet is a celebration of joy in honor of the Father and his life-saving, costly love. (See Finding the Lost, by Kenneth E. Bailey, Condordia Press, 1992).

What then is Jesus saying, through these three parables of lost things, to His audience of Pharisees and to us? He is saying, (1.) “I hang out with sinners because I came to seek and to save the lost.” (2.) He says to the Scribes and the Pharisees, “So should you.” (3.) To us, “Even though we may believe God has given up on us He hasn’t. He simply waits for us to come to our senses, and realize we need Him.”

He is also telling us that our God is a loving and forgiving parent. His love for us is extravagant, generous, without compare. And He stands ready to forgive us and draw us to Himself if we but ask. May we always appreciate His life-saving, parental love!

©2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

Repent or Perish!

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 20, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Kiss of God

Pastor Sherry’s message for 2/13/2022

Scriptures: Jer 17:5-10; Ps 1; 1 Cor 15:12-20; Lk 6:17-2

The following story comes from an anonymous source:

At age 16 Andor Foldes (1913-1992) was already a skilled pianist, but he was experiencing a troubled year. In the midst of the young Hungarian’s personal struggles, one of the most renowned pianists of the day came to Budapest. Emil von Sauer was famous not only for his abilities; he was also the last surviving pupil of the great Franz Liszt. Von Sauer requested that Foldes play for him. Foldes obliged with some of the most difficult works of Bach, Beethoven, and Schumann.

When he finished, von Sauer walked over to him and kissed him on the forehead. “My son,” he said, “when I was your age I became a student of Liszt. He kissed me on the forehead after my first lesson, saying, ‘Take good care of this kiss–it comes from Beethoven, who gave it to me after hearing me play. I have waited for years to pass on this sacred heritage, but now I feel you deserve it.”

How delightful! The master pianist, Sauer, passed on his blessing to the amateur, Foldes, with a kiss to the fellow’s forehead. Emil von Sauer, a German (1862-1942), had received the blessing from the famous Hungarian composer, Liszt (1811-1886); just as Liszt had received his blessing from the fabulous German composer, Ludvig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

I think several of our Scriptures today represent a kiss to our foreheads by our heavenly Father. One of my seminary professors used to greet me with a kiss to my forehead whenever we encountered each other at large church meetings after I had graduated. I always felt that his kiss represented God the Father’s blessing to me. In today’s lessons, God the Father and Jesus are telling us how to live a life that pleases Them. Their words, in Scripture, provide a pathway for us to God’s approval. Let’s examine them together:

In Jeremiah 17:5-10, the prophet shares with us the Father’s distinction between blessed and cursed people. Those who want to be blessed—kissed on their foreheads, as it were, by God—trust in Him. These folks are like trees planted by a consistent source of fresh water (lake, river, pond, or swamp). They don’t have to worry about heat or drought conditions. And—all things being equal, and given enough nutrients–they bear fruit at the appropriate season. In other words, they thrive!

Jeremiah contrasts these with the person who trusts instead in humankind, thinking they don’t need the Lord. We all know people like this. I have some in my extended family. They don’t believe they need God. Such a person, God says in verse 6 …will be like a bush in the wastelands; He [she] will not see prosperity when it comes. He [she] will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

We’ve all seen at least pictures of trees in such barren places. Their growth is stunted. They are but scraggly versions of what they could have become in a more hospitable environment. Surviving takes so much energy—using up all their resources– that they do not achieve their potential. Instead of receiving God’s kiss of blessing, they are cursed.

Jeremiah follows this contrast up with a warning: (v.9) The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? He is saying that we humans are adept at justifying what we want or desire, even to the point of lying to ourselves and others to get it. We may fool ourselves, and we may fool others, but we never fool God. Scripture tells us He is…the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:6). God asserts, in verse 10 I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve. He reads our hearts, our motives, our thoughts like we might read a book on our Kindles or Notebooks. Psalm 139:3-4 tells us that nothing about us (thoughts or actions) is hidden from His sight.

Psalm 1 re-states the same message, as it contrasts the behaviors of a blessed or happy person with an ungodly person.

The wise person chooses to align his/her life with God’s teaching, not the culture’s. The foolish person, on the other hand, is captured by wickedness/sin or slavishly complies with cultural dictates. The righteous ultimately prosper; while the lives of the foolish are ultimately—in the words of Peter, Paul, and Mary or Bob Dylan, from the 1960’s–“blowing in the wind.” The much more stable, wise person finds joy in God’s Word and walks by faith in Him.

Paul’s passage from 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 explains why blessed persons believe in Jesus: because of His Resurrection. Paul was preaching against 3 philosophical views of death common to the folks of Corinth:

1. The Epicureans believed there was no existence beyond this life (therefore, no resurrection).

2. The Stoics believed the soul, at death, merged into the divine, losing all individuality and personality. Somehow we were all to merge with the universe.

3. The followers of Plato believed the spirit was immortal but the body (which was seen as evil and not worth saving) did not rise from the dead. Paul rightly preached the Christian view that there is a bodily resurrection.

The Greek words he used for resurrection were anastasis nekron. which iterally means the standing up of a body. When we die, our body is resurrected with our spirit. Furthermore, as proof, the resurrected Jesus appeared in His human body, complete with nail-holes and the spear wound to His side.

Paul says we can trust that Jesus truly did overcome death because He was seen after His resurrection by so many eye-witnesses:

1. Cephas (Peter); Paul doesn’t mention Mary Magdalene (John:20:10-19); the other Mary or Joanna (Luke 24:9-10); Salome (Mark 16:1); or the two on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35);

2. “the Twelve” to represent the 11 remaining disciples (Judas had already hanged himself);

3. 500 disciples who traveled on to meet Him in Galilee;

4. James, His brother;

5. and finally, the Apostle Paul.

Jesus’ resurrection is a well-supported historical fact. There is more evidence, from Christian as well as non-Christian sources of the day, to prove Jesus came back from the dead than there is for the existence of Julius Caesar.

Finally, in our Gospel today, Jesus preaches what have become known as the Lucan Beatitudes (as opposed to those cited in Matthew, chapters 5-6), from the Sermon on the Plain (vs. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount). He promises that the poor, those who are hungry, those who grieve, and those who are persecuted for His sake will all be blessed. As in Psalm 1 and in Jeremiah 17, He then contrasts between those who are blessed and those who at their deaths will be afflicted, despairing, and anguished (cursed): He says, Woe to the rich because they have already received their rewards on earth. Woe to the well-fed for they will go hungry later. Remember Jesus’ parable of Lazarus (the beggar) and Dives (the rich man)? The rich man died, went to hell, and implored of Abraham in heaven that he tell Lazarus to give him some water.

Abraham replied (Luke 16:25-26) …Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us. Woe to those who laugh now (the mockers) for they will mourn later. And woe to those who are highly regarded by the culture as this was true of the false prophets. They received the acclaim of unwise people but did not impress God.

So how might we anticipate receiving the kiss of God? I thank God it’s not based on how well we play the piano, as I can’t play a note! Rather, it appears that God is willing to bestow His blessing, His kiss, on those who…

1. Put their hope, their faith, their trust in God and Jesus rather than in people.

2. Try to live their lives according to God’s Word (the Bible), rather than what’s popular in the culture.

3. Believe in Jesus.

4. And look to Jesus, rather than to their own efforts, to fulfill them.

Holy Spirit, help this to be the case with all of us! May we each receive a kiss from God on our foreheads because we trust Him, love Him, and seek to do His will. May we each one day arrive in Heaven to hear from Him, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

When Life Sends us Disappointment

Pastor Sherry’s message for 1/30/2022

Scriptures: Jer 1:4-10; Ps 71:1-6; 1 Cor 13:1-13; Lk 4:21-30

The story is told that the devil was going out of business and would offer all his tools for sale to whomever would pay his price. On the night of the sale they were all attractively displayed—and a bad looking lot they were: Malice, Hatred, Envy, Jealousy, Lust, Deceit and all the other implements of evil were spread out, each marked with its price. Apart from the rest lay a harmless looking wedge-shaped tool, much worn and priced higher than any of the others. Someone asked the devil what it was.

“That’s Disappointment,” was the reply.

“Why do you have it priced so high?”

“Because,” replied Satan, “it is more useful to me than any of the others. I can pry open and get inside a man’s consciousness with that when I could not get near him with any of the other tools. When once inside I can use him in whatever way suits me best. It is so much worn because I use it with nearly everybody, as very few people yet know it belongs to me.”

It hardly need be added that the devil’s price for disappointment was so high that it was never sold. He is still using it

This story puts disappointment in an interesting light, doesn’t it? We tend to think of it as a fact of life, something that happens to us from time to time. Those of us who are resilient, bounce back from disappointment; while those of us who aren’t may get so discouraged we give up and quit trying.

Our Old Testament and Gospel passages today have a lot to say to us about how we might deal with disappointment. Let’s take a look at them together:

A. Jeremiah 1:4-10 lays out God’s call to the young man, Jeremiah, to serve Him as a prophet. Jeremiah was probably somewhere between17-20 when God ordained him. He had already been serving as a priest in his home town of Anathoth, located just a few miles north of Jerusalem. King Josiah was on the throne then. He was just 22, in 626 BC, and reigned until he died at age 39. He and Jeremiah were contemporaries and probably friends. Jeremiah served all during the remainder of Josiah’s reign, and also during the reigns of kings Jehoahaz, and Jehoiakim (sons of Josiah), Jehoiachin (Josiah’s grandson), and Zedekiah (a third son of Josiah). Josiah was a good and godly king, and had led his people in a revival which turned their hearts back to God. His sons, however, were another story. Because of their idolatry and wicked behavior, God allowed the last to be defeated and carried off into slavery by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

Notice how God called Jeremiah into His service: Verse 5: Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. This verse gives me chill-bumps! It states that God knows us before we are even conceived, and that He has a plan for our lives. This is true for all of us, not just Jeremiah! The Lord tells Jeremiah He had determined–even before the young man’s birth–that he would become a prophet and deliver to His people God’s words.

Jeremiah is a humble young man who tells God, (v.6) I am only a child. He essentially says, “Yes, I will do it, but I am young and inexperienced; I won’t know what to say!” God’s response must have been very reassuring (v.7) Do not say,’ I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you. In other words, the Lord was telling Jeremiah that He would supply the words he was to speak. Furthermore, God promised to take care of him, even though He was calling him to prophesy divine judgment on Judah and her heretical kings.

If we skipped ahead 40 years to the end of Jeremiah’s life and career, we would find that he apparently never made a single convert. After Josiah’s death, the people ignored or ridiculed his preaching entirely. He was rejected by his own countrymen, hated, beaten, put in stocks, trown into a dry well, imprisoned, and charged with being a traitor. He was later called “the prophet of the broken heart” because God’s judgments on his people—and their rejection of God–were so distressing to him. Once, King Jehoiakim cut his painstakingly hand-written, prophetic scrolls up. The king then destroyed them by throwing them into the fire (but God just retold the contents to Jeremiah so he could write them down again).

I don’t know about you, but though I would have been honored to speak the Lord’s words to His people, I would also have been very disappointed that my ministry would have had such little effect. What is noteworthy, though, is that Jeremiah may have gotten depressed, but he persisted! He may have been disappointed, but he kept on giving out God’s messages. He may have gotten discouraged, but he never gave up!

I think that he stands as an excellent example to us: He trusted in God’s promise to him and he persevered at a thankless task. Even though the apostle Paul wrote some 600 years later, I think what he said in 2 Timothy 4:7 was very appropriate for Jeremiah I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

B. Our Gospel lesson from Luke 4:21-30 picks up where we left off last week. Jesus had read His job description from Isaiah 61:1, and told the Nazarites, His friends and neighbors, that He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophesy. At first, they were impressed–until someone spoke up who reminded everyone that Jesus was the carpenter’s son. This man had placed Jesus in a box and would not consider that He might in fact be “more than a carpenter.” The nay-sayer was limited in his understanding and recognition of Jesus as the Messiah due to his own prejudices. The crowd in the synagogue were eager to see Him work some miracles, but they too were unwilling to alter their perceptions of Him. Mark tells us (Mark 6:5) He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them…due to their lack of faith. Perhaps the ones He healed had had long term illnesses and were desperate enough to put their faith in the “hometown boy” turned itinerant rabbi. What a blessing they got when He healed them but not the others.

Jesus really gets the crowd riled up when He reminds them (v.24) I tell you the truth…no prophet is accepted in his hometown. He is claiming He is a prophet. Again, this was outside the box they had constructed for Him. Then He further incenses them when He gives them two examples of “outsiders,” non-Jews God had provided for. There were many widows in need in Israel during the famine and drought of Elijah’s day, but God sent the prophet to minister to a Phoenician woman instead of an Israelite. Similarly, there were lots of Israelite lepers, but God chose to heal the Syrian general, Namaan. In other words, Jesus is warning them that God will not bless them if they do not believe in His Son. They became so angry by this point that they attempted to kill Him by tossing Him off a cliff.

The fact that He could just disappear from an angry mob should have expanded the box in which they had confined Him.

I could be wrong, but I would bet that Jesus was disappointed with their reaction to Him. He was obviously willing to heal many, but their contempt and anger, their lack of faith, limited what His heavenly Father would allow Him to do. Just as with Jeremiah, His own had rejected Him. So, He moved His base of operations to Capernaum.

What is the example Jesus gives us in the face of disappointment and discouragement? Respond honestly, if given the opportunity. Then move on, move ahead with your ministry.

Jeremiah’s great example to us is to persist. Persist in being faithful. Persist in loving God and others. Persist in the office or role to which you have been called, whether that is as a Parent (be sure to watch the Christian movie, “Mom’s Night Out”), a Spouse; a Sibling, a Friend, a Pastor, healer, counselor, caregiver, etc. I remember as a young adult rebelling against the idea that we should “bloom where you are planted.” I strongly believed we should work hard to change the environment in which we found ourselves. I did not realize then that God has us each where He wants us. We are to do our best in that situation until He sovereignly leads us into a different environment. Like Jeremiah, we should persist in believing and trusting that God will and does care for you.

Jesus’ provides several great examples for us in today’s Gospel:

1. Speak the truth in love. He told them some truths they didn’t want to hear. He loved them as He told them, but they got angry and rejected His right, as God, to speak into their lives, and His true identity, because it was outside their usual way of thinking of Him. If we are to tell someone a tough truth, we need to be sure we can convey it from a place of love. If not, we are …only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1). If not, we are meeting some ego needs and not treating the other with love.

2. If people are disinterested or belligerent, let them be.

Jesus didn’t argue with his former friends and neighbors. He ministered to those who were open to Him, and He moved His base of operations to Capernaum.

3. If/when people disappoint us, we can respond like Abraham Lincoln. In 1858 the Illinois legislature, using an obscure statute, sent Stephen A. Douglas to the U.S. Senate instead of Lincoln, although Lincoln had won the popular vote. When a sympathetic friend asked Lincoln how he felt, he said, “Like the boy who stubbed his toe: I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh.” Lincoln didn’t hold a grudge. He didn’t seek revenge. Instead, like Jesus,

He trusted God and quietly and calmly went about his business. Then, 2 years later in 1860, he was elected President of the United States. We don’t know if he prayed for the Illinois legislature, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had as he was a great man of God. May we each be as gracious and Christ-centered. Amen!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Knowing Who We Are and What We Are Called to Do

Pastor Sherry’s message for 1/23/2022

Scriptures: Neh 8:1-10; Ps 19; 1Cor 12:12-31a; Lk 4:14-21

The story is told of a man who found a young eagle that had fallen from its nest ….

“He took it home and put it in his barnyard where it soon learned to eat and behave like the chickens. One day a naturalist passed by the farm and asked why it was that the king of all birds should be confined to live in the barnyard with the chickens. The farmer replied that since he had given it chicken feed and trained it to be a chicken, it had never learned to fly. Since it now behaved as the chickens, it was no longer an eagle.

Still it has the heart of an eagle,’ replied the naturalist, ‘and can surely be taught to fly.’ He lifted the eagle toward the sky and said, ‘You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth your wings and fly.’ The eagle, however, was confused. He did not know who he was, and seeing the chickens eating their food, he jumped down to be with them again.

‘The naturalist took the bird to the roof of the house and urged him again, saying, ‘You are an eagle. Stretch forth your wings and fly.’ But the eagle was afraid of this unknown self and world and jumped down once more for the chicken food. Finally the naturalist took the eagle out of the barnyard to a high mountain. There he held the king of the birds high above him and encouraged him again, saying, ‘You are an eagle. You belong to the sky. Stretch forth your wings and fly.’ The eagle looked around, back towards the barnyard and up to the sky. Then the naturalist lifted him straight towards the sun and it happened that the eagle began to tremble. Slowly he stretched his wings, and with a triumphant cry, soared away into the heavens.

‘It may be that the eagle still remembers the chickens with nostalgia. It may even be that he occasionally revisits the barnyard. But as far as anyone knows, he has never returned to lead the life of a chicken.” (Theology News and Notes, October, 1976, quoted in Multnomah Message, Spring, 1993, p. 1).

The eagle had a case of confused identity. He didn’t know who he was—a chicken or an eagle. He didn’t know his purpose—to peck for food on the ground, like a strange domestic; or to soar the heavens as a magnificent raptor. We can often be like that, can’t we? We can limit who we are, and we can miss out on our purpose.

Let’s see what our Scripture passages today have to about our identity and our purpose.

A. Our Old Testament lesson comes from Nehemiah 8:1-10, and takes place in Jerusalem in 445BC, roughly 2500 years ago. Jewish POW’s of first the Babylonian, then the Persian Empires, had been set free by the Persian king, Artaxerxes, to return to their homeland. Under the oversight and direction of their governor, Nehemiah, they had completed the massive rebuilding of the city walls in just 52 days. Ezra, their priest had begun the sad reconstruction of the Temple, which would take many more years. We find them today assembled–on the equivalent of their New Year’s Day—inside the Water Gate (1 of the 12 refurbished gates of the city). You may recall that business, legal, and political matters were debated and decided, in those days, at the city gates. So this wasn’t just some narrow passageway, but a gate opening into a sizeable square or assembly area.

Again, they had to meet there because reconstruction of the Temple was not accomplished.

Ezra and Nehemiah had convened a “solemn assembly” of all the returning citizens. Scholars estimate some 49,000 men, women, and children of an age to understand [perhaps ages 8-10 and above], had gathered there—with someone providing child care for the younger ones. After 70 years of exile in a foreign nation, they may have held Bible studies there, but chances are good that they had not really been formally taught the Torah (the Law). The word has gotten around, however, that someone had found a copy of the Law of Moses during the Temple rebuilding project. The People wanted to know what it said. They realized they had been punished by God for their idolatry and for not obeying His Law. They wanted to be sure they didn’t err in the same way their grandparents had.

Notice what happens. Ezra proclaims God’s word, in a loud voice, from a raised platform (perhaps the first pulpit). The people remain standing, and quiet, and as they listen for some 4-6 hours! This is where the synagogue tradition of standing for the reading of Scripture began. In Eastern Orthodox congregations—and in the middle ages in Europe–people stood for the entire service. That’s why we find there large cathedrals with no pews. Today, we stand for the reading of the Gospel, the Creed, and communion. Standing is a sign of respect, a sign of reverence. These folks are hearing God’s word read to them—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—perhaps for the first time.

Additionally, there are Levites available to walk among the crowd and explain what God’s Word means. Scholars believe the people may not have understood the Hebrew, as they had probably been speaking Aramaic or even Persian/Farsi. So the teachers of the Law were there to answer questions and to explain. This is probably the most important job we pastors now do—explain the meaning of Scripture, as best as we can. The pre-Reformation Catholic Church had moved away from this important duty. The Protestant Reformers were thus insistent that we preach and explain God’s Word. This is why I park on the Scripture passages appointed for the day in all of my sermons. Like the people of Nehemiah’s day, we cannot obey God’s Word if we don’t know or understand it.

The people respond with AMEN, AMEN! May it be so, hands lifted, praising God. We say, Thanks be to God! following our reading of Scripture and hopefully we mean it. They then became convicted of their sinfulness. They now knew the standard. They also realized how far short of God’s standard they had lived, and how the sins of their forebears had led to the destruction of their country, and to their 70 year exile as a subjugated people. So, they prostrate themselves and cry tears of repentance. But Ezra, Nehemiah, the 13 on the platform, and the Levites among them, tell them not to grieve or mourn. For a time they had lost their identity and their purpose! But God brought them out of captivity. He once again delivered them and restored them. He hadn’t turned His back on them. And now they had a new chance to get it right. This, then, is an occasion to celebrate, to rejoice about the goodness and mercy of the Lord.

Nehemiah tells them, (v.10)—Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Just what does that mean? It doesn’t say, I bring God joy when I praise Him (though we probably do). It doesn’t say, My joy about God makes me strong (though it may). Both of the above statements begin in the wrong place: with ME. The true starting place, always, is with GOD. God’s joy is the foundation for our strength. So, what brings Him joy? When we remember our identity begins with our belief in Him, as His beloved children, and our purpose is to be obedient to Him.

B. Our Gospel lesson today comes from Luke 4:14-21. Jesus has returned home to Nazareth (following His baptism, 40 days in the wilderness, and probably the wedding at Cana. He goes to the Synagogue on the Sabbath, as was His custom. The synagogue at Nazareth would have been His “home church.” When I visited my home church in Tallahassee from seminary in Pittsburgh, it was always such a blessing and a celebration to greet old friends. This must have been true for Jesus too as they invited Him to read the Scripture appointed for the day and to preach.

Now Jesus knows Who He is—the beloved Son of God. He also knows His mission–to redeem the world—which He no doubt came to grips with during His time of prayer, meditation, and temptation in the wilderness.

And He would have realized the Scripture, Isaiah 61:1-2a, was His mission-statement. He reads aloud for the congregation what Isaiah had predicted about Him 700-750 years before His birth: Anointed by the HS, He would…

[1] Preach good news to the poor (God loves you and has sent Me to save you);

[2] I will proclaim freedom to prisoners (people whose own sin has captured them);

[3] I will recover sight for the blind;

[4] I will release those who have been captured and injured by the sins of others;

[5] And I will proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor: This is it! God has sent you the Messiah!

Then He sat down (the traditional posture of a teacher) and told them that what the prophet had predicted has now come true in Him. In other words, Jesus knows His identity and His purpose. Do we each know who we are and what we are called to do?

This week, let’s try to remember our true identity comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ.

1. Not from our profession;

2. Not from our marital status;

3. Not from our family name or our friendship circle;

4. Not from where we live;

5. Not from what sports team or political candidate we support;

6. Not even from our gender orientation.

7. No, we are children of God and inheritors of His Kingdom through Christ Jesus. That is our prime and most important identity.

And our purpose derives from that: We are here on earth, at this time and place, to know, love, and serve God. Christians means little Christs. We are to imitate Jesus in the way we behave.

Allow me to close with a story regarding the 19th century French artist Paul Gustave Dore, taken from Our Daily Bread, 01/06/1993. (Dore was famous as an illustrator of books, including the Bible, fairy tales, and other poems and novels of the day:

The renowned artist Paul Gustave Dore (1821-1883) lost his passport while traveling in Europe. When he came to a border crossing, he explained his predicament to one of the guards. Giving his name to the official, Dore hoped he would be recognized and allowed to pass. The guard, however, said that many people attempted to cross the border by claiming to be persons they were not. Dore insisted that he was the man he claimed to be. “All right,” said the official, “we’ll give you a test, and if you pass it we’ll allow you to go through.” Handing him a pencil and a sheet of paper, he told the artist to sketch several peasants standing nearby. Dore did it so quickly and skillfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. His work confirmed his word!

This week, let us remember, we are eagles called to be eagles, not chickens. May what we say and do reflect who we are. AMEN! (May it be so!)

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams